7 tips for saving money during back-to-school season These seven back-to-school savings tips will have your kids ready for another year without busting your budget. July 28, 2023 New backpacks, calculators, shoes, musical instruments, and books—the shopping list for school supplies seems to get longer each year. It’s no wonder that families with children in elementary through high school planned to spend an average of $890.07—an all-time high—on back-to-school shopping, according to a 2023 National Retail Federation Report. Clearly, back-to-school season can put a major dent in your budget. So how can you save money on back-to-school shopping? Fear not. Tiffany Morrison, a personal finance writer, says there are ways to save money that can help ease the financial sting: “Back-to-school shopping can be done without breaking the bank.” Here are seven tips for saving money this back-to-school season: 1. Plan ahead The last thing that most parents and caregivers may want to think about during summer break is the next school year. But Morrison says it pays to plan ahead to stay in front of your back-to-school finances. “Having a plan when it comes to school supplies and new shoes can help you not go over budget,” says Morrison, a mother of two high schoolers. After all, no one wants to start a new school year in debt. As soon as you can, Morrison says to make a list of the items your kids may need for the upcoming school year. Think about school supplies, backpacks, shoes, a first-day outfit, other clothes your kids may have outgrown—or anything they might need for extracurricular activities. Be as specific as you can, keeping in mind that your child’s school may not release its school supply list until just weeks before school starts—or sometimes even after it starts. “Knowing exactly what you’re looking for ahead of time is a big help,” she says. “This way, you aren’t overbuying, which is easy to do when you aren’t prepared and don’t have a plan.” After building a list, research prices. How much do those must-have shoes cost? How much extra is a backpack with wheels? Tallying up the numbers might reveal that back-to-school shopping will be more expensive than you anticipated. But don’t stress. There are a variety of back-to-school savings tips and clever ways to save money that can help you make it more affordable. For starters—and in the spirit of preparedness—Morrison recommends setting up a back-to-school savings challenge for yourself. “This involves setting aside a small amount of money, every paycheck, for a few months,” she says. “That way you’re prepared and not stressed about breaking the bank when that time comes.” Where should you store those savings for back-to-school shopping? A high-yield online savings account allows your money to grow each month thanks to compound interest. It’s safe and easy to access, and you can even use multiple savings accounts to stay organized as you save toward different goals. 2. Look for midsummer deals Once you have a list, Morrison recommends mapping out which stores have the items. Back-to-school shopping tips like this help you streamline and prioritize securing those midsummer deals so you don’t miss them. “A lot of stores start having sales on school uniform clothing and school supplies beginning around July,” Morrison says. She adds that you can also find deals in the end-of-season clearance sections of stores. “I also check to see which stores have any coupons available,” Morrison says. “And don’t forget to check the mobile apps associated with each store. Sometimes they offer extra savings.” 3. Stock up on back-to-school staples throughout the year Some school supplies are timeless, and they need to be regularly replaced. Things like notebooks, folders, glue, markers, crayons, pens, and pencils always need to be restocked before the next school year. For that reason, Morrison says that a great way to save money is to spread out your school-supply shopping throughout the year. By jumping on sales when you see them, you can check off a good chunk of your back-to-school shopping before the summer even begins—and at a fraction of the cost. Another back-to-school savings tip from Morrison? Sift through the supplies your kids bring home on the last day of school. You may find unused plastic folders or spiral notebooks that can be saved for the upcoming year. You can also stow away items with a longer shelf life, like scissors, rulers, calculators, and protractors, so they stay in good condition. “Having a plan when it comes to school supplies and new shoes can help you not go over budget.” 4. Start meal planning Morrison saves the most money of all on meals and snacks for her kids. That’s why, when it comes to tips on saving money this back-to-school season, meal planning is her biggest focus. That doesn’t mean planning every lunch down to the last grape. Instead, Morrison likes to plan her kids’ breakfast, lunch, and dinner around their school and activity schedules. For example, she says if there’s a busy week of school concerts and soccer games, you might be tempted to make an unplanned detour to the drive-thru on the way home. Instead, Morrison recommends always having an easy-to-prepare meal available for when things get hectic. “A simple sandwich with chips and veggies can go a long way,” she says. To become a better meal planner, Morrison recommends practicing over the summer so you’ll be prepared when the school year is in full swing. 5. Take advantage of tax-free shopping days Hitting the stores during tax-free shopping days is a lesser-known tip for saving money this back-to-school season. The downside? Only some states offer them, and they can include residency and product restrictions, so do your research before crossing any state lines for back-to-school shopping. Tax-free shopping days may be a great way to save money, Morrison says. But she also notes that shops and stores may be busier on those days. One tip: Arrive at stores early to beat the crowds and take advantage of those tax-free back-to-school savings without too much stress or having to deal with sparse inventory. Morrison notes that not all states offer sales tax holidays—and of those that do, some only reduce a portion of the tax. And be sure to check which items are eligible for the sales tax holiday before planning your back-to-school shopping. 6. Involve your kids in scouting out back-to-school savings Implementing back-to-school savings tips doesn’t need to be the sole responsibility of parents. Teaching your kids about money and getting them involved in the family budget can help them understand the importance of saving money on back-to-school shopping. In the short term, they’ll feel like part of the team in making smart money decisions. And in the long term, they’ll file away life lessons for managing their own money. Morrison recommends getting younger kids involved in the savings challenge. Whether they have an allowance or not, you can give them a “bonus” and have them deposit it in a back-to-school savings jar. They’ll see their jar fill up over the summer and can enjoy buying a few back-to-school items with the money. Older kids can help save money as well. Morrison gives her kids a budget for their clothes and shoes. “If they want something more expensive, they have to help with the difference. They’ll usually stay within budget if they want to save their money.” 7. Make smart saving part of the family “The older they get, the more expensive they get,” Morrison says. When healthy financial habits are part of your family culture, you can help your kids grow up with the confidence and know-how to make smart money decisions. That will help you manage your back-to-school spending, but it will also set them up for financial success in the long run. Even during summer break, saving doesn’t need to stop. Finding inexpensive activities for kids can keep the momentum going from one school year to the next—and help you budget more for back-to-school essentials. 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