Help Me Save Money on Back to School Items!

A few weeks ago, I asked my Facebook fans to help me save money on back to school supplies. Taking their advice, and doing quite a bit of my own research, I have come up with several tips and tricks.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average American family spends over $600 per year on school supplies. Seriously? My son is going to kindergarten in a few weeks, and I have no intention of spending even $100 — and that includes clothing.

Now, I realize that I have it easier with a younger child than I would with an older tween or teen who has specific opinions about their clothing and who may need more costly supplies like a computer or graphing calculator. Still, these tips should help families and even teachers save money.

Update: I talk about these tips and more on the following clips, originally aired on 13-WHAM on 8/14/13:

Help me Save Money

1. Don’t be afraid of garage sales. I am not ashamed to say that my son will be wearing many “new” clothes that I purchased at garage sales over the past several weeks. Mid-summer, I went through his clothes and verified his size and needs. Then, I targeted garage sales that looked promising by searching on Craigslist and narrowing by ones that advertised children’s clothing or name brands like Gymboree or Carters.  Now, there is a stack of 6 nice long-sleeve shirts in my son’s closet that I paid under $5 for – total.

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2.If you don’t have the time or inclination to search out garage sales,  Thredup is one of my favorite online consignment stores. They have a great selection for kids’ sizes newborn – juniors, and if you’re a new customer, you can try coupon code “NEWBIE” to take 25% off + free shipping on your first order.

3. Know where to splurge. This year I am “splurging” on high quality backpacks from Land’s End. The one I purchased for my son cost $39, which is steep considering Walgreens had backpacks for $2.99 a few weeks ago. However, this is a case where quality trumps quantity. We purchased a neutral color and a large enough size that I hope will last my son for several years. If he uses his Land’s End backpack for 4 years, the cost will only be $10 per year, which is very palatable. Also, it creates less waste to buy 1 quality item than multiple poorly-made items that fall apart after just months of use.

4. Shop the Sales. Late summer is prime time for sales on underwear, socks, and other basics that retailers want you to stock up on. Take advantage! Last week Target had a fabulous deal on Hanes socks: they were on sale for $7 per 8-ct bag. You can stack this with a $5.00/3 Hanes item mobile coupon (text Hanes to 827438) to get them for just $5.33 per pack or $0.67 per pair!

5. Recycle, Repurpose, Reuse: You may have an unopened box of crayons, some #2 pencils, or some unused folders laying around at home. Take a look, see what you have, and don’t buy what you don’t have to!

6. Shop for Free: I recently posted several shopping trips where I purchased crayons, pencils, and even lunchbox snacks for free. You can see my Wegmans trip and my Target shopping trip for specific details.  Make sure to check stores other than office-supply stores. I also find great deals on organic granola bars and snacks at Big Lots. These are perfect lunch-box add-ins. Target also has a great $1.50 off any Up&Up School Supply Item coupon this week! Make sure to print it and use it to get FREE school supplies! You can see all the school supply deals for this week here.

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Items I got for free or super-cheap combining coupons and sales

7. Speaking of lunches, buy reusable lunch bags, sandwich bags, and drink containers. Sure, the initial investment costs more, but it saves time and money throughout the year as these items won’t have to be purchased again for years. Make sure to lable these items! I use Mabel’s Labels.


Let me hear ’em: Give me your best, cleverest ideas for saving money on back to school in the comments!


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  1. Back to school season is expensive! These are some great tips and I appreciate the share!

  2. I love these tips! Seriously so cool to save money when shopping for back to school. It can get so expensive! I try to get as many clothes as possible from Garage sales or thrift stores. But some things I just have to splurge on like shoes. My kids wear out the cheap ones so fast, I have to splurge and get nice ones so they last until Christmas, instead of being worn out the first month.

  3. This is a great list of ways to shop for the back-to-school season. I think that shopping Garage Sales is a fantastic idea – both for clothes and school supplies!

  4. With 3 kids in school, I am always looking for ways to stretch my budget and save money on school supplies.

  5. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something that I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complex and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post,
    I’ll try to get the hang of it!