11 Ways to Save Big on Back-to-School Shopping

You can pay less for school supplies and stay within your budget — here’s how.
Last updated Nov 2, 2019 | By Lauren Stewart
Elementary age kids at their school

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When your shopping list is filled with pencils, notebooks, and backpacks, that can only mean one thing: It’s back-to-school season.

While many parents look forward to sending their kids back to school in the fall, it often doesn’t come cheap — school lists of suggested supplies can be lengthy, and your child may have their own wants for school-year items.

But you can get it all without breaking your budget. Here’s how.

11 ways to save on back-to-school supplies

Once you have the school’s list of supplies for your child, take a deep breath. It may look like a lot, but it doesn’t have to leave you with an empty wallet if you shop wisely. Check out these ideas to save money on your back-to-school shopping.

1. See what you already have

How many times have you bought something because you weren’t sure if you had it already at home? You’d rather be safe than sorry, but this could cost you.

It’s likely that there are a few things on the list that don’t need to be brand new, such as binders, pencils, and calculators. Take a quick look around your home to see what you already have so you don’t end up with double supplies and a second trip to return items.

2. Host a supply swap with friends

Here’s an excuse to have a back-to-school party that will make you look like a genius. Host a supply swap by inviting your friends over to “shop” your unused items. Admission is a bag of never-used school supplies and a snack to share. If there’s a need to keep things fair, take turns selecting one item so no one gets too greedy for high-ticket goods.

3. Use a cashback credit card

This trick won’t immediately save you money, but you’ll at least get some cash back on your purchases. Put your expenses on the right credit card and you could earn a small percentage of it back in cash.

Do your research before choosing a cashback credit card — some offer additional cash back at office supply stores, warehouse stores, and similar categories that are perfect for buying school supplies.

4. Use online rebate sites to earn cash back

There are several apps and websites that help you redeem rebates and cash back for online purchases. For example, Ebates will give a small percentage of cash back for shopping at select stores. Simply connect your PayPal or bank account, shop online, and save.

5. Buy like-new items

There’s new — and then there’s “new to you.” Before you head to the biggest back-to-school sale nearest you, check out second-hand stores, swap meets, Craigslist, and other places that sell “like new” items for big discounts. This can be particularly useful for things like backpacks, school uniforms, or sports equipment.

6. Check out local buy/sell groups on social media

Many neighborhoods have a buy/sell/trade group on Facebook or other platforms. Do a quick search on social media to see if there’s one in your area. If you don’t see the school supplies you’re looking for, you can make an “in search of” post and say how much you’re willing to pay for each item.

7. Follow companies on social media

Following companies like OfficeMax, Target, Walmart, and other popular stores that sell school supplies can give you the advantage you need to save money. Sometimes these stores will announce an upcoming sale to their followers, so you can better plan when to shop at certain stores to save the most.

8. See if your state has a sales-tax holiday

Several states, including Alabama, Iowa, and Connecticut, offer sales-tax holidays specifically for the back-to-school season. In certain categories and spending amounts, you could pay nothing in sales tax when you shop on these special days. Check online to see if your state offers one of these holidays and plan your shopping accordingly.

9. Take advantage of return policies

Become familiar with different stores’ and websites’ return policies so you can be free of purchase regret. Keep all of your receipts at stores with generous return policies; this way, you can return an item if you find it cheaper elsewhere.

10. Ask for a student discount

Some retailers may offer student discounts, which can save a lot on big-ticket items. Bring your child with you, and double-check that they have their student ID with them if the school issues one.

11. Get your child involved

If your child is old enough, consider asking them to pitch in for special items they want for the school year. Encourage them to be young entrepreneurs by working for money. They can do chores around the house, then offer their services around the neighborhood.

Back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to involve draining your bank account. With some planning ahead, you could get all the items on your list — for less.

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