How to Save BIG on Back-to-School Shopping

posted in: Parenting, Shopping Tips
How to Save on Back to School Shopping

As you prepare for your kids to go back to school, those supplies and clothes can add up fast. After all, you need to buy everything on the school-issued lists AND clothing/footwear for the kids, who have grown like weeds. Here are some tips for saving on everything your kiddos need, from clothing to cleats.

School Supplies

Take an inventory of what you already have

The biggest way to save is to not spend, so see what can be salvaged from last year. If last year’s backpack could make it through another year and you still have folders left over from that Costco run last summer, there are two fewer things you have to buy.

Make a list of things you need

After figuring out what you actually need, make a shopping list and stick to it. Without a list, it’s easy to go overboard when your kids are clamoring for all the cool, new styles.

Check out sales tax holidays in your state

Many states have a sales tax holiday around this time of year – check out this list of tax holidays in your state (or a neighboring state). The rules vary from state to state, but in general, items in certain categories, like apparel or tech, are tax-free if you purchase under a certain amount. If you live in a high-tax state, like Arkansas or Virginia, you could save a bundle shopping tax-free.

Shop in bulk

Shopping in bulk can be up to 40% less expensive. Items like folders, pens, and notebooks are often available in bulk at your local Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJ’s with a membership. You can also buy in bulk on Amazon If you have an only child a wholesale haul might be too much, but you can always split the goods with classmates or friends.


Say “no” to designer duds

If your kids are begging for items from designer brands, take advantage of this teachable moment. Explain how one expensive item can blow your budget, i.e. “if you buy these xyz sneakers, you have little money left for all those other items you need.”

Try to steer them away from pricey purchases, but if they don’t budge, insist that they contribute some of their own money. If kids have skin in the game, they may choose more wisely.

Buy used 

You can find a broad selection of gently used kids’ clothing at consignment and thrift stores. Look locally or shop online on sites like ThredUp and Poshmark (sign up with code TRAEBODGE and earn $10 and I will too – thanks!) You can even sell/consign gently used clothing that your kids no longer use and make back some cash!

Don’t buy everything now

I know you want to check everything off your list, but it’s good to set aside a portion of your clothing budget until after school begins. Why?  Once they’re at school, your kid may scope out a new trend and you’ll have that budget set aside already.

Wait on cold-weather clothing

If you live in an area where you experience seasonal weather changes, cooler weather clothing won’t be deeply discounted yet. You’re better holding off on items like jackets and sweaters into well into the fall.

Shop online with deal platforms

Deal sites and apps, like CouponCabin, Rakuten, Paypal Honey, and Slickdeals will have robust back-to-school cashback offers and coupons, some of which can be stacked with retailer sales. Fun fact: Large retailers, like Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Dillards, often offer higher cashback percentages than smaller retailers.

Join or organize a clothing swap with other families

Some schools organize swaps where you can bring a pile of clothes your kids no longer need and swap away! This is a great way to get like-new clothing for no cost. If no such program exists in your town, organize one amongst friends!

Sporting Equipment and Musical Instruments

Check out local rental stores for equipment or instruments

Rarely does your child need equipment or instruments past a season or two, so check out rental stores – savings can be up to a few hundred dollars so this is a worthy avenue for kids with lots of extracurriculars.

Buy used (if safe to do so)

Check out sports equipment stores and music shops that buy and sell! You can buy used at a fraction of the price of buying new. If your child has changed interests and has old equipment laying around, you can potentially sell those unwanted items for cash or a store credit. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are also worth a look for buying and selling.


Compare prices

Tech items, like smartphones, laptops, and tablets, are pricey, so you want to be 100% sure that you are getting the lowest price. Before checking out, use price comparison tools, like CamelCamelCamel for Amazon, or Google Shopping or Yahoo Shopper for all retailers.

Set a deal alert

No one wants to waste their precious time tracking prices, so an easy hack is to set a deal alert on if you have a specific item in mind. That way, you will be notified when that item goes on sale and for how much.

Buy refurbished

You can save a lot by buying refurbished tech, but you want to make sure that protections are in place should something go wrong. Retailers, like Best Buy and Amazon have certified refurbished or warranty options, as do sites like BackMarket which specializes in laptops, tablets, and phones, and, which carries photography and videography equipment.


Take advantage of savings at big chain salons

Big chain salons (think SportsClips) typically have money-saving memberships. If your child is someone who needs a haircut pretty frequently, this may be your best bet to reduce your haircut expenses.

Check out local beauty schools

Most cosmetology schools offer a large discount if you’re willing (and if your child is willing) to be used as a guinea pig of sorts. And you get to help a student learn!

Try simple, easy-to-maintain hairstyles

If your kids are on the young side and not super particular yet, encourage them to get simple hairstyles that don’t require a ton of maintenance. That way, you can spread out the haircut schedule a bit.

And if you don’t have school-aged kids…

The back-to-school shopping season isn’t only for kids. Think about it – those e-readers, laptops, school supplies, and clothes that are on sale could be for YOU.


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Smart Shopping Expert

Trae Bodge is an accomplished lifestyle journalist and TV commentator who has specialized in smart shopping, personal finance, and retail for more than a decade. She has appeared on TV over 1,000 times; including Today Show, GMA3, NBC Nightly News, Inside Edition, and network affiliates nationwide. She has been named a Top Voice in Retail by LinkedIn, and her expert commentary has appeared in Forbes,, Kiplinger, Yahoo Finance, and numerous others.

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