Back-to-School Shopping Tips

Schoolchildren with backpacks
Cut your costs by first shopping at home — many families can find barely used school supplies or hand-me-downs tucked away in closets that could save a lot of money on back-to-school costs. (Adobe Stock)

Back to school season is here. For most families, that means spending a lot of money on clothes, school supplies, electronics and accessories. According to the National Retail Federation, the average family will spend over $630 this season, with total consumer spending topping $72 billion! You can increase your savings and reduce your stress with the following tips.

  • Shop at Home. Cut your costs by first shopping at home — many families can find barely used school supplies or hand-me-downs tucked away in closets that could save a lot of money on back-to-school costs.
  • Set a Realistic Budget. Know your spending budget and stick to it! If you are already having trouble making more than a minimum payment on your credit card, then don’t use it for school shopping. That’s a debt trap with long-term implications. If you have to carry a balance on your card, be sure to use the lowest interest rate card.
  • Make a Shopping List. Realistically assess what you need to purchase and then make sure it maps to your budget above. Try to break your budget into categories such as clothing, accessories and supplies so you can prioritize spending. And check with your school or teacher to make sure you have the proper supplies and dress clothes items included so that you’re not surprised later.
  • Learning Opportunity. Use back-to-school shopping to improve your children’s financial literacy. Share your budget with them and ask them to help find bargains and make tough decisions about over-budget items. Allow them to be a part of the process and have some ownership within style and cost guidelines.
  • Maintain Control. Kids can apply a lot of pressure, especially when it comes to “needing” the newest fashions, phone or accessories. It can be hard to say no, but be firm so that you don’t overspend.
  • Hunt for Bargains. Comparing prices and shopping around has never been easier. Look at prices online, use shopping engines and visit store websites to find the best prices for the items on your list. When comparing prices, don’t forget to see what is available at the PX.
  • Shop for Quality. Be a smarter shopper by reading product reviews for bigger purchases. You might find that the less costly item is the higher quality choice. Of course, always buying the cheapest item without reading reviews might cost you more in the long run.
  • Be Social. Speak with other parents to share tips about bargains. Consider setting up a clothes exchange with your friends and extended family so that everyone can take advantage of items in good condition that would otherwise just sit around.
  • Be Social (Media). Follow the social media accounts of different stores and brands you may select. You might find a deal that is only available via Facebook or Twitter.
  • Thrift stores. You can save a lot of money by shopping at thrift stores, and some kids appreciate the “cool” factor of secondhand shopping. It’s possible to find trendy brands and high-quality goods at reduced prices.
  • Save Your Receipts. You may need to return or exchange items. Keep all your receipts and pay attention to the store’s return/exchange policy for each of the items you buy. Sometimes, items bought on a deep sale may be subject to different return rules than other purchases made at the same store. Don’t forget to claim any mail-in rebates you earn.
  • Review. Were you able to stay in budget? If not, where did you spend more than you expected. This is probably not the last time that you’ll be shopping for back-to-school. Learn from what you do this year so that you can be a smarter shopper next year.
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