13 Quick and Easy Back to School Shopping Tips

On Facebook, I already see back to school photos, and it is just the first week of August. Back to school shopping can be overwhelming. School lists seem to be growing and clothes that fit your kids in the spring probably won’t fit them this fall.

Here are thirteen tips and tricks to make your back to school shopping an on-budget breeze.

1. Remember priorities

It’s easy to get caught up in everything your child could want or need for school. Remember that your priority as a parent is to buy what is on their school list and to send them to school in clothing and shoes that fit, everything else is a bonus.

It is not worth it to go into credit card debt for locker mirrors, the trendiest, brand-name shoes, or school supplies your kids simply don’t need. Before you go out and shop, set a spending goal that will cover the priorities and whatever bonus spending you can afford.

Don’t forget to include sports fees, doctor costs for physicals or immunizations, classroom parties, or any other items associated with school.

2. Compare online

Compare prices online before you leave your house. Wal-mart and Target fight over back to school dollars as well as many office supply stores. If you need pricey items like that scientific calculator, check Ebay, Craigslist, and Amazon too.

3. Print out coupons

If you know you will be going to Old Navy for clothes and Target for pencils, do a quick search online for store coupons. Retailmenot.com is a great place to look for online shopping while Savings.com is good for in-store shopping and sales information.

4. Group shop

All the kids in my neighborhood go to the same elementary. If you know other parents of children in the same grade, perhaps suggest splitting the list and sharing the load.

If might seem too much to comparison shop 40 items for your two children, but if you can get a group together, perhaps each parent can handle finding the best deal on only five items.

5. Keep your receipts

Perhaps you bought the wrong type of school paper, or those shoes start pinching your son’s feet. Make sure you can make an easy, no argument return by keeping your receipts.

6. Consider other stores

The Dollar Store, Dollar Tree, and Five Below might not come to mind when you are thinking of school supplies, but competition in these low-priced stores is fierce. These stores are also typically located next to a Target or Walmart.

Stop in here first and see what they have before going to other locations. If you find something cheaper elsewhere, you will be right next door and will have your receipt.

The Dollar Store and others are also a good place to buy very inexpensive little birthday presents needed for class parties and other invites throughout the year.

7. Stock-up

If you find an amazing deal on something your children need throughout the year, stock-up! Maybe there is a great deal on granola bar packs at the Dollar Store, or watercolors that your daughter loves.

Stock-up for a months worth of snacks or hours of painting time (and an easy birthday party gift) while you are out. Just remember your budget and stock up if only a truly great deal.

8. Brand names

If your child is little, hopefully, they are not too concerned with brand name items. If your child is older and is starting to care what brand of clothes or shoes they wear, let them know before shopping what your budget is for these items.

If they want shoes that are an extra $50, perhaps they can work to earn the money for the increased cost. Or you can let them know that you will buy the shoes, but they will have less money for clothes.

We live in an upper middle-class area, and I worry about the comparisons my kids will make in school. If your kids are comparing, remind them that some people have more funds, might be up to their eyeballs in debt, or do other things to get their clothes and shoes.

It is never too early to start instilling values of hard work and an appreciation for the effort it takes to earn money to buy things.

9. Used clothes

Yes, you can buy gently used clothing for your brand, conscious teen.

Plato’s Closet has many locations in the U.S., and they have very strict rules of what they accept. You can buy your kids brand name jeans, dresses, etc. for a much lower price.

Look for teen-focused consignment stores in your area.

Also, check out outlet stores like Neiman Marcus Outlet or Off 5th for Saks if your teen wants brand name items and will help you shop for them.

10. School uniforms

Uniform wear at some schools is pricey. Ask about clothing swaps, where you bring in last year’s uniform wear and can leave with uniforms that fit your children now.

Some swaps are organized by the school; others might be online swaps. Be friendly with other parents and you never know if you’ll be able to help each other out with gently used uniforms.

If it is your first year, buy what you can afford and work to keep those clothes in great shape. Maybe that means investing in a good detergent and stain remover.

11. Save on books

For college students, have them check Half.com and with the college bookstore about getting used books. Half.com is run by Amazon, and you can sell your old books here as well.

College bookstores will also buy books back at the end of each semester. For younger students who need to get books, check your local Half Priced Books or other used book seller. Paying $3 for a book is so much better than $15. You can also sell books to these stores as well.

12. Dorm furnishings

If you can plan ahead, keep an eye out on Craigslist and Free-cycle.org for items for the dorm room. It will take you time, but I did it for our nursery, and I saved so much over buying new items.

Dorm furnishings are not going to stay looking beautiful after moving every year. Start with something that is gently used and then you don’t have to worry when it falls off a shelf or gets stuffed into a trunk for the third year in a row.

13. Cell phones

With both younger kids and those headed for college, it can be nice to keep in touch. But keep in mind that this phone will most likely be lost, broken, or stolen at some point in the year.

  • buy a phone that doesn’t break the bank
  • research phone insurance plans
  • make clear to your kids that if the phone is lost or broken, he or she will have to help you purchase another one.

Phone companies have people turning in old phones constantly as people upgrade. Ask about refurbished phones at your local cell provider store and see what is available.

Be clear with your kids about data usage and texting fees. Don’t get surprised with a $400 bill because little Johnny learned to play video games after class, or your college student is getting 300 group texts a day.

Follow these tips and your school shopping be less costly and less stressful!

Question: Do you have any back-to-school saving tips? Please leave a comment on Facebook or Twitter.