Fresh haircuts. White sneakers. Bulging backpacks. Yes, it sounds like school’s back in session. And with that comes those back-to-school expenses, too.

According to the National Retail Federation, families with children in K-12 expected to spend an average of $696.70 during back-to-school season, with clothing and accessories ($239.82), and electronics ($203.44) as the two most significant budget busters.

With a bit of planning and these A-to-Z tips, you can make sure your dollar goes far as you shop. 


eBay might not be your first stop when you think back-to-school, but it should be. You can search for new and used items, potentially finding big-ticket items for substantially less.


Instead of picking up items one by one, you can snag back-to-school supply bundles from popular brands like Crayola or Elmer’s. Bonus: Buying in bulk helps you avoid those back-and-forth trips to the store, saving you a bit of gas money, too.


We’re not just talking about clipping from the newspaper. Add coupon codes to your online purchases, and you could save more than you ever expected. Find discount codes on RetailMeNot or download web browser extensions like Genie or Honey that help you locate them.

Dorm decor

Outfitting a dorm room or your child’s first apartment can cost a lot of $$$. Pick up stylish decor for less from big-box retailers.


Physical textbooks can get expensive, and renting them isn’t always a cheap alternative. E-books can be both more cost-effective and easier to use. With Chegg eTextbooks, you can affordably study on your laptop, tablet, or phone.


Ask family, friends, or even your neighbors. Odds are you can cut costs by asking around for unused items or by rounding up items around the house. That unused binder shoved in the back of the china cabinet? And what about the countless pens and pencils hidden in your junk drawer? Jackpot!


Helping your school can help you, too. Find coupons to clip, save, and submit via the Box Tops app. Buy your usual products, scan the receipts, and your school will receive a check twice a year to buy items it needs.


The holidays and other special occasions are perfect times to get your kids a cool present AND something useful for school. A hip lunchbox, a backpack, or clothes are presents they (and your wallet ) will like.

In-store pickup

Do all your school shopping from the comfort of your own home, then pick up your purchases at the retailer’s customer service counter or have them brought directly to your car. Doing so will reduce the risk of making spontaneous purchases that you don’t necessarily need (or want) as you walk the aisles.

Join email lists

Get deals delivered right to your fingertips. Sign up for your favorite retailers’ mailing lists to receive exclusive offers for back-to-school season and beyond.


New sneakers can be budget-busters. Look for last season’s models on sale racks. They’ll likely have the same features, only in different colors or patterns.

Leave the kids at home

It’s tough telling your children no, but it’s important when you’re doing school shopping and want to stay on budget. Make it an adults-only affair to avoid having to explain that a 15-cent notebook is just as good as a $2 one with puppies on it.


The online marketplace isn’t just a place to buy school items. It can earn you money, too. Extra supplies from the ghosts of back-to-school past? Sell them online and use the money to purchase new ones.

No. 2 pencils

Twenty-four of these old-school, must-have writing utensils can be snagged at a dollar store for a buck.


Ever buy a winter coat in the summer because you found a deal that was too good to pass up? The same can apply to supplies. Keep an eye out once school is already in session — you never know when a sale will pop up.

Price match

Find a cheaper item at a different retailer than the one you want to shop with? Many retailers offer price matching, including Staples, which offers a 110% price-match guarantee. Simply find a better price elsewhere and bring proof of it to an in-store location to score the deal.

Qualifying purchases

Be mindful of the rewards points your purchases may qualify for. Many retailers have membership programs that can score you exclusive discounts or earn you rewards that can be redeemed later on for something you need.


Tech can be a costly investment, but buying refurbished laptops can help ease the pain. Refurbished electronics — which are different from used ones — are sold by retailers or manufacturers after they’ve been cleaned, looked over, and repaired (if needed). Some even come with warranties to further lessen the worry.

Shop tax-free

Sixteen states have tax-free holidays to help shoppers save on school items, while another five states (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon) don’t charge sales tax on many everyday school items year-round. These breaks can be particularly beneficial when buying higher-end items like computers or coats.


Before spending $40 on that school uniform, drop by your local Goodwill or other resell locations for shirts, pants, and shoes, some of which are new. You could also find binders, writing utensils, notebooks, and more.

Under buy

Do you really need to cross every item off your supply list? If it calls for six glue sticks, you can likely get by with just two to start the year.


Whether you want to watch other back-to-school journeys or document your own, YouTube and other social media outlets are unsuspecting places to find deals. Some companies work with influencers to promote their brands through promo codes or giveaways. (Got a sizable social media following of your own and catch the eye of a sponsor? You might even be able to earn money while shopping.)

Watch your budget

$7.50 here, $2.99 there. The costs quickly add up, and it can be easy to bust your budget. Make sure you stick as close to it as you can by using a budgeting app to track your purchases.

Xylophones and more

Musical instruments, sports equipment, and other after-school activities can require expensive buys. Don’t forget about them when creating your school budget. Try buying used or trading with family and friends.

Yard sale

Some of the best deals around could be in your neighbor’s front yard — at their garage sale. Search neighborhood sales near you for gently-used school uniforms, sports equipment, books, art supplies, and more.

Zip up unused funds

Get a jump start on saving for next year’s back-to-school shopping by opening a savings account!

Between new kicks and a shiny lunchbox, back-to-school time is an exciting part of the year. By using these tips and managing your budget, you might surprise yourself and spend less than what you expected.

Start saving for next year’s school supplies.

Discussion questions:

  • What are your best back-to-school savings hack?
  • When do you begin shopping for back-to-school supplies?
  • What back-to-school items do you spend the most money on each year?