It’s time to head back to school! There’s something about the back to school time that calls to me. A new start, new routines, and getting back to some structure.
But, going back to school can cost a fortune if you don’t have a game plan.
Moms know this time of year can really add up and stretch your budget to the max. Kids need an unbelievable amount of supplies to start the school year.
Fortunately, retailers know this, so they offer terrific deals to help you save. This time of year is a great time for awesome savings on office supplies, clothes and apartment supplies. Back-to-school is a good opportunity to stock up on grocery supplies and find hot deals on end-of-summer clothing staples.
You’re probably wondering how on earth to navigate all of these sales and take advantage of the savings without buying items you don’t really need. If your kids are heading to school, you might go into shock when you see the back-to-school supply list. Combine those items with school uniforms, fees and food, and you’re probably wondering how to afford it all.
Well, there are awesome back-to-school tips and tricks you should use to navigate the back-to-school specials and score the best deals. You CAN do back-to-school without breaking the bank. It’s possible, I promise.
It’s going to require a little bit of strategic course-plotting. You’re going to need to do homework before you start. You’re going to need to plan and prepare. But with these back-to-school tips and tricks, when you go in to navigate the sale, you’ll be armed with your list and ready to save on back-to-school specials. You’re going to know exactly what you need, what you’re able to spend and where to find each and every item.
So get ready. Here are 12 back-to-school tips and tricks to help you avoid killing your budget.
1. Inventory & Budget
If you want to save on kids supplies for back-to-school, you need to first look at the items you already own on-hand.
If your office is anything like mine, you’re probably hoarding a plethora of pens, notepads and folders already. Go through the supplies you and your kids own before you run out and buy. Are their crayons in decent shape? Do they own a perfectly fine pencil box?
Look through the back-to-school supply list and determine what you really need to buy, vs. what you already own and can reuse or repurpose.
2. Review List & Stretch Buying
Next, I want you to set your budget. How much can you realistically afford this month on school supplies? If you’ve budgeted the cost of back-to-school into your savings for a few months, you might be able to purchase every item now. If not, see what you can feasibly purchase this month and what items you can purchased later.
For example, if the supply list calls for three boxes of tissues, well, there’s no way your kid is going to go through three boxes in the first month of school. Send one box now and wait until later to send the next one. Check with the teacher to see what he or she suggests. Most teachers are happy to work with you on separating the “need nows” from the “need laters.” The school may even offer some donated supplies for families facing financial difficulties. I know asking is tough, but if you’re struggling, there are resources out there. Check with the school and if you feel guilty, pay it forward later when you’re in a better spot.
Once your budget is set and your list of must-buy-now items is prepared, you’re ready to start shopping.
3. Shop on Sales Tax Holidays
Did you know many states offer sales tax holidays?? There are days where you literally pay nothing in sales tax on clothing and school supplies (and sometimes on all purchases). About 15 states offer this deal, so do your research to see if your state (or a nearby state) falls into the category.
If your state offers the holiday, save your shopping until the day to save 5-7% on your purchases. Combine your shopping with special offers, coupons and any other deals.
4. Go for the Doorbuster Sales
Staples offers $.01 reams of paper one time per year, in the first week of August. We always shop this Staples paper sale and stock up on all the paper we need for the entire year. This lets us print for next-to-nothing all year long. (Seriously, read my post on the Staples paper sale here.)
Other retailers offer doorbuster deals on items your kids might need like crayons for .15/box or notebooks for .10/each. When you see these deals, stock up (but buy only what you realistically need for the year).
Another of my back-to-school tips and tricks for saving is to buy summer clothing at this time of year. Back-to-school/fall clothes are on sale, but summer items are on clearance for even less! Find items like polo shirts and khakis—items that transition perfectly from summer to fall. Besides, most schools start in August, when the weather’s still too warm for fall clothes. Watch those deep clearance deals!
5. Buy in Bulk
Bulk buys are a great way to save money on certain items. Purchase bulk packages of snacks, granola bars, trail mix and other items for your kids to take for lunches. (And hey, warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club even offer clothes, shoes and other items your kids might need for school.)
Stock up on Ziploc bags and lunch sacks as well. Buy big quantities of foods like chips or cookies and repackage them in smaller bags to avoid buying more expensive “snack packs.” Buy drinks, pens, paper and office supplies at bulk stores.
Many back-to-school supply lists call for Clorox wipes, paper towels and tissues. Warehouse stores offer great deals on these items, but do your comparison shopping. Sometimes you’ll find better deals at Walmart and Aldi.
6. Save By Packing Lunches
Create lunches for your kids to take to school and really save money! School lunch programs are often expensive. Plus, it’s always questionable if your kids will like and eat the food they’re served. Rest assured your kid will feel full and enjoy a great school day if you send them with a lunch and snacks.
Peanut butter sandwiches and even deli meat sandwiches can be made ahead of time. Add mayonnaise, mustard or other condiments on the day of, so they don’t get soggy (or put cheese next to the bread to act as a barrier). Put together sandwiches for the whole week—and even freeze PB&J for up to a month!
Buy and repackage snacks and sides into lunch portions—carrot sticks, chips, crackers and other foods are easy to grab-and-go. Buy fruit cups, dried fruit or easy-to-peal clementines. Cheese sticks hold up really well in lunches (even without refrigeration). Repackage ranch into smaller containers or look for the dipping-size to help kids eat their veggies.
7. Thrift for Clothing or Swap
Check out thrift stores for awesome deals on gently-used kids clothing. Kids grow so fast they often don’t wear out their clothes before they’re too big. Staples like jeans, jackets and even shoes are a great deal at your local thrift store. Also look for uniforms. The material in polo shirts, khaki pants and standard uniform-wear is made to hold up!
If you aren’t having luck with thrift stores, swap with your fellow moms on Facebook or get a group of friends together to do a clothing exchange. Include items like backpacks, which might get outgrown when your kids move from Paw Patrol to Spiderman.
Even keep your eye on Craigslist. Parents offload lots of gently used kids’ clothes for cheap cheap prices. Look for pop up consignment sales and rummage sales as well. Buy well-made items in easy-to-care-for fabric (like denim and knit). You’ll really save.
8. Use Items On-Hand & Decorate
If your kids still own binders, backpacks, lunchboxes or pencil cases from last year in good condition, extend their life with a little creativity. Use pretty paper, fabric paint, washi tape, stickers, Mod Podge and even patches to dress up last year’s items for next year.
Kids will enjoy getting creative and putting their own personality into their items. It’s much cheaper to give a facelift to an item on hand than to buy new. Not only are supplies cuter than a cookie-cutter store purchase, but since they’re unique your kids will easily identify their supplies and keep track of them. Decorate pens, pencils, notebooks and folders.
Purchase plain items for much less than branded items with cartoon characters. Then bring them home and add pizzazz with your own decorations and art work. You’ll save money and your kids will love their cool items made just-for-them.
9. Shop at the Grocery Store
One of my favorite back-to-school tips and tricks? One place often forgotten for back-to-school supplies is the humble grocery store. Many grocery stores offer a office/school supply aisle and during back-to-school they offer super cheap deals on school supplies. You’ll save time because you won’t run all over town to buy basics and the prices are usually competitive.
Check the discount aisle at the grocery store as well. Find unique items like icepacks for lunches, bags and other accessories at deep discounts. Stores like Aldi offer special back-to-school deals at this time of year on many items you’ll need.
Of course, the grocery store’s also a great place to stock up on food for breakfasts and lunches. Fruit snacks, granola bars and other lunch-friendly fare are on huge sales, so it’s a great time to buy extra and store the food in your pantry to use throughout the year.
10. Visit the Dollar Store
Another great place to save on back-to-school? The dollar store! One of my favorite discount spots, your local version of “dollar store” offers all sorts of school supplies—containers, paper, stickers, pens, markers, crayons…the list goes on and on. Now, obviously some stores are offering deals for less than $1 on certain items (so buy the .19 box of Crayola Crayons at the other store) but for most of the basics, $1 can’t be beat!
Check the $1 bins at Target and the dollar section at other discount stores as well. At this time of year there are usually great deals on certain supplies we’re all in the market for. Avoid getting wooed by the decorative items you don’t need. Those dollar bins are very tempting!
The dollar store offers unbeatable back-to-school savings on many items, so don’t forget to check out your local dollar shop!
11. Shop with Gift Cards
If you know you’re going to do most of your shopping at popular stores like Target, Kohl’s and Old Navy, check out sites like Gift Card Granny, CardCash and GiftCards.com. Purchase gift cards for 5-25% off the face value and use them like cash. Buying gift cards online is an extra step, sure, but if you’re dropping a few hundred bucks at a store, discounted gift cards save you quite a bit of money.
These sites purchase unwanted cards from people and then re-sell the cards at a discount. If you’re holding on to gift cards you don’t want, exchange them toward cards you’d actually use. This is an awesome way to save money at stores you visit regularly.
So many retailers are offering great deals right now and the additional discount with gift cards is icing on the back-to-school savings cake. So, check out the sales, plan your shopping and then look for gift cards to help with the cost.
12. Get Social Alerts from Favorite Stores
If you’re avoiding the temptation to spend money, you’ve probably unsubscribed or stopped following your favorite store’s sales alerts. Back-to-school is a good time to start following them again for the month, especially on Twitter and via email.
Stores offer sales alerts and flash sales right now and being on their alert program helps you keep track. Unsubscribe later when you’ve finished your back-to-school shopping. Bonus—many stores will offer you a special discount for signing up for sales alerts and emails.
Typically, you will find deals and get coupon codes for 10-15% off when you sign up. Check Ebates for any deals as well as sites like RetailMeNot to take full advantage of any online specials being offered. Online retailers might offer better deals than brick-and-mortar stores, so do your research, people!
It’s easy to save on back-to-school and it doesn’t mean throwing your budget out the window. Using these back-to-school tips and tricks, and with a little planning and smart decisions, you’ll save plenty of money while still getting all the stuff your kids need for a great year.