It's Not Too Late to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

by Nicholas Pell on 5 September 2013 3 comments

The good thing about back to school is that you might get a little "me" time once the kids are out of the house. The down side is all the money that you have to spend. In the 21st century, it's not just pens and pencils you need to worry about. Especially when they get to high school, kids are going to start needing pricey calculators and maybe even a computer or tablet of their own to stay abreast. Here's a guide to how you can get your kids the stuff that they need for their return to school without breaking the bank. (See also: Back to School Essentials for High Schoolers)

Back to School Swaps

When it comes to dressing your younger kids, you might be tearing your hair out about buying them clothes that they're going to outgrow in six months. One way to save a bit is to have clothing swaps with other parents. Trade the clothes you no longer need for the clothes that will fit your kids this year. It can really reduce your clothing budget for this year's back-to-school season. (See also: The Greatest Frugal Fashion Makeover Ever)

Shopping at Home

One place that people often skip when they're looking for school supplies: their own home. If you hunt around, you might be surprised at just how much you already have in the way of pens, pencils, folders, notebooks, and the like. Think about it. How many times have you bought way more office supplies than you actually need? Now is the time to harvest all of the stuff that you bought in the past and put it to good use.

Tax Holidays

It's becoming increasingly common for states to allow tax-free weekends and they tend to fall around the same time that you will be shopping for back to school. Waiting until the tax-free weekend can have you saving big bucks, especially on high-ticket items. What's more, if you layer those savings with sales and other discounts, you're going to be saving hundreds rather than just tens of dollars.

Digital Textbooks

When you get to college, school books aren't something that get lugged around in a backpack and forgotten anymore. They're necessary to get a passing grade, and they cost big bucks. However, depending on what courses a college students are taking, they can save a lot of money by investing in a tablet or e-reader and buying digital versions of their books online. History and English majors might even find that a lot of the stuff that they need is available in the public domain, free of charge. (See also: Score Free (or Almost Free) College Textbooks)

Bulk Shop With Friends

The bulk items that Costco has on offer might be too numerous for you. However, you can go in with a friend and split the cost. Then divvy up your purchases, and pass the savings on to yourself. Even if you have to go it alone, try and plan not just for this back to school season, but for the one that comes after it. (See also: 9 Things Worth Buying at Costco)

Second Hand Goods

When it comes to higher-end electronics like tablets or graphic calculators — things that are increasingly necessary as children get older, particularly if they are planning on pursuing a STEM education in college — look online for good deals, including second-hand purchases. Chances are good that there are literally hundreds of classified ads on Craigslist selling precisely what you're looking for at a fraction of the cost.

Shop After Labor Day

This isn't an option if you live in a state where kids return to school in the middle of August. However, if you live somewhere when kids return a little later, wait until after Labor Day. Retailers are going to be dying to dump whatever remaining back to school stock they have, at bargain basement prices. On the other hand…

Look for Loss Leaders

A lot of office supply stores start selling their loss leader items in the middle of July. This means that if you shop early you can save a killing with targeted buying. The point of loss leaders isn't to turn a profit in and of themselves — it's to get you in the store. If you only shop for these items, often advertised prominently in a circular, you're going to come out on top.

How are you saving on back-to-school costs this year?

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Guest's picture

In about a month, I'll look for back to school clothes to go on clearance, and buy the next size up -- for next years' clothes. I like to buy closet staples on clearance (particularly pants), so I know they won't be out of fashion for next year.

Guest's picture

I never thought of clothing swaps for kids. I do them all the time for myself, why not for the little ones!

I've been in desperate need of a new planner and have been waiting till "back to school" goes on clearance so I can get a deal. I'd also recommend checking amazon for supplies. I feel like everything on there is cheaper.

Guest's picture

Frugalinda LOVES the "shop at home" method! You are absolutely right -- there are so many pens, pencils, notepads, paper, etc. hiding around the house! I used to have my kids go on a scavenger hunt of sorts to find all the supplies on the list. Then, we'd take some clear plastic bins and do the sorting -- tossing the dried up markers & sharpening the pencils. If anyone has checked the price of three ring binders lately, it really does pay to reuse these, tossing the contents (saving the precious notes for the scrap book or keep sake box).

I did find some good promotions this year at Staples --got a ream of paper for $1 after rebate, and a package of two Sharpies for just a quarter!