28 Back-to-School Savings Tips for Thrifty Parents + Printable Checklist

July 26, 2019


When back-to-school time approaches, you may be feeling a mix of excitement and dread. As a parent, you’re excited to see your kid excel in school, but you know there are a lot of things you need to do in order to set them up for success. And if you’re on a tight budget, this can be particularly stressful without some good back-to-school savings tips up your sleeve.

The back-to-school industry rakes in $83 billion annually, with the average family spending over $680 each year. And if your child is in high school or college, that price is a very conservative estimate. The good news is that you don’t have to dig into your kid’s college fund just to afford school supplies. All it takes is some advanced planning and research to make sure you’re getting the best deals out there.

The key is anticipating deals and sales and starting early. Otherwise, costs will pile up and you’ll be crunched for time — which means you may jump at the first price you see, which is rarely the best. From backpacks to bento boxes, there are opportunities to save on everything your kid needs for school. Read on for savings tips to make back-to-school a breeze, or jump to our printable checklists below. If you’re in a hurry to snag the best deals on back-to-school items, be sure to check out our basic essentials list as well!

School Supplies and Gear

  • Check the dollar store: Basic supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks and folders are typically cheap anywhere you shop. But when it comes to pricier items like calculators and planners, the dollar store can have some incredible bargains. Plus, they’ll likely have classroom supplies like hand sanitizer and tissues. To get the most bang for your buck, be sure to check out these Discount School Supply coupons to save on everyday school items!
  • Network in your community: If you have a circle of friends with kids that are in school, ask them to keep an eye out for sales and to let you know about any great finds. Consider making a group text or facebook group to stay connected and notified. You can also coordinate a supply swap to score what you need for free, or be on the lookout for Unbeatable Sale coupons since they cover school supplies and more!
  • Take inventory beforehand: Make a list of what you already have and what was left unused from last year to avoid double-buying, especially if you’re on a tight budget. To that end, you can make budgeting a bit easier with this Your Balanced Budget monthly planner.
  • Identify what you can skimp on: Consumables like paper can be cheap-quality because your kid will blow through them quickly. However, when it comes to things like three-ring binders or backpacks, it pays to buy heavy-duty, good-quality pieces. These supplies can wear out quickly and easily because they’re used so often, so buying something that will last, like this Fjallraven classic everyday backpack, will save you money in the long run.
  • Buy in bulk: There are certain school supplies that your kid will need year after year. Buy staples like pens, pencils, notebooks and paper at bulk stores and take advantage of these Sam’s coupon and Costco promo codes for the best deals. Stash them away and know that you won’t have to worry about buying them again next year.
  • Leverage technology: Apps like Freecycle will notify you about things people are giving away for free in your area, which may include school supplies. Sites like Craigslist can also come in handy for snatching freebies, and don’t forget to use Capital One Shopping to find the best deals at your favorite online stores.
  • Opt for used books: It’s rarely worth it to buy brand-new books. Look for used books in good condition on Amazon and local resale stores. Unless you’re building a home library, chances are you’ll end up giving them away or selling them at the end of the school year anyway. Additionally, you can take advantage of these Book Outlet coupons to save even more.
  • For multiple kids, choose a one-stop shop: If you have multiple kids of different grade levels, you might find yourself running around to multiple stores in order to accommodate everyone’s needs. If you’re pressed for time but still want the best possible deals, consider a one-stop shop and use these Walmart coupons for supplies, clothes and snacks.
  • Memorize some prices to recognize deals: If you’re a new parent, you’re probably a back-to-school shopping novice, and it might be hard to recognize deals. Familiarize yourself with the base prices in your area so that you can prevent overspending and recognize a great deal when it comes along. Do periodic check-ins on big online stores as well, and use coupons like these Groupon codes to get the best rates!
  • Compare prices: When you shop for the supplies you need on Amazon, Capital One Shopping automatically checks hundreds of other sellers for a lower price. Just install the plugin for Chrome and start saving!

Clothes and Personal Care

  • Set a budget limit: If your child is old enough to understand basic money concepts, talk to them about your budget and involve them in your choices. Consider giving them an incentive to find deals to teach them the value of saving. For example, if your shoe budget is $50 and they find a pair on sale for $32, let them pocket the difference. This will help them differentiate between needs and wants.
  • Hold off on buying new clothes: Stores like Macy’s will often have back-to-school sales, but Consumer Reports shows that clothing prices tend to drop further in late September after the buying rush has died down. Consider buying your kid one new outfit for the first day of school, and then stock up on staples a few weeks later.
  • Shop online: Shopping online will allow you to compare prices and stick to your budget more easily. Check out these Bealls promos codesand Keds coupons to snag great deals on children’s apparel and shoes.
  • Wait for tax-free weekends: If your state offers sales tax holidays, take advantage of them to stock up on your wardrobe staples (and don’t forget to grab hangers while you’re at it). This usually also applies to school supplies and even electronics. Find your state’s tax-free weekend dates here.
  • Look for double-savings opportunities: Saving money is good. Saving double the money is even better. Look for opportunities where you can layer your savings. For example, if you’re shopping online and Kohl’s is having a sale, use your Capital One Shopping plugin to find coupon codes for even more savings.
  • Embrace thrift stores and garage sales: Not everything you buy has to be new. When it comes to clothes, such as art smocks or even socks, backpacks and other back-to-school gear, you can often find quality pieces at a fraction of the price. You’ll want to start this process early in the summer, as you may need to wait until you find the perfect deals.
  • Follow your favorite stores on social media: Stores will often advertise sales and deals through social media. TJ Maxx, for example, often tweets about clearances and new markdowns. Pair that with one of these TJ Maxx coupons for double savings!
  • Shop with the dress code in mind: If your child’s school has a strict dress code, make sure to familiarize yourself with it before shopping for clothes. Remember that even if you think something is appropriate, it may not meet strict school standards — and then you’ve wasted money on a piece your kid won’t be able to wear at school. To find even more deals on children’s clothing, be sure to check out these Childhoods Clothing promo codes next time you’re shopping!
  • Trim haircut costs: You’ll want your kid to look and feel great on their first day, so make sure to schedule a haircut about a week before school starts. To avoid a pricey salon bill, consider doing it yourself with a haircutting kit, like this Wahl Clipper Fade Cut Haircutting Kit. It’ll pay for itself after only a few uses. But if you’re not the DIY type, look for local beauty schools. Haircuts are a fraction of the price and are performed by supervised students.

Snacks and Lunches

  • Stock up on reusable containers: This may be pricier upfront, but investing in durable, reusable food containers and bags, like these Prep Naturals 25oz food storage containers, will save you money in the long run. Skip buying single-use plastic sandwich bags and save the planet while you’re at it!
  • Skip individually-packaged snacks: We get it — busy parents often need to reach for prepackaged convenience foods for kids’ lunches. However, if you buy individually-packaged snacks, you’re paying for the convenience. It’s cheaper to buy these snacks in bulk and individually portion them out in a reusable container. Think 31-oz. cartons of Goldfish instead of 1.5 oz. individual bags. To snag the best deals on snacks, make sure you use these KNOW coupon codes next time you’re shopping for some healthier options!
  • Meal prep on Sundays: Make all of your kid’s lunches for the week when you have a spare hour or two on Sunday. Having healthy, homemade lunches for every day of the week will ensure you’re making the most of your grocery budget and not over-spending on last-minute convenience items. You can even compartmentalize your meal prepping by snagging this EDC meal prep bag!
  • Stock up on takeout extras: Save napkins, utensils and condiment packets you get from takeout and use them in your kid’s lunches. These are things you’re likely not using anyways if you’re eating at home, so rather than throwing them away, re-use them and save. To make your life a little easier, organize your favorite takeout options with thistakeout menu organizer.
  • Love your leftovers: Get creative with leftovers from last night’s dinner. Soup works great the next day in a thermos. Cube leftover protein like tofu or chicken over fresh lettuce for a salad. Wrap noodles and pretty much any veggie in a rice paper wrapper for easy spring rolls. Stretching your leftovers helps make the most of your grocery budget. To make storing your food even easier, use these Stasher reusable silicone food bags!
  • Embrace the bulk section: Shop for snacks and staples like nuts, granola, rice and beans in the bulk section of your grocery store. Depending on the breadth of what yours offers, you may even find candy or snacks in the bulk section. If not, get in a DIY mindset and mix and match your own trail mixes. If you’re not up to that challenge, however, it always helps to go for variety cookie and chip bundle packs!
  • Put your thermos on double-duty: Fill your thermos with water and place it in the freezer the night before. In the morning, it will act as an ice pack so you can skip buying them at the store. By the time lunch rolls around, it should have melted enough for your kid to use it as a water bottle. You can also do this with frozen grapes or berries. A great thermos for this creative hack is this 12oz Funtainer if you’re feeling up to it!
  • Choose a lunch box with compartments: A lunch box or bento box with individual compartments will help keep everything separate and let you skip the packaging, saving you money. Grab this cute LEGO lunch box for your kids, or this Zuca lunch box for something simpler.
  • Leverage your student ID: There are over 240 businesses — including restaurants — that offer discounts for showing a student ID. Encourage your teenager to treat their ID card like a coupon and keep it on them at all times so that they can enjoy lunch for less.

Going back to school doesn’t have to break the bank. There are opportunities everywhere to save — you just have to do a little planning. Set yourself up for a stress-free school year and give your kid everything they need to succeed with our back-to-school checklist for every grade. Simply download, check items off as you go and get ready to send them off to their best year yet.

Download Back-to-School Checklist: Kindergarten

Download Back-to-School Checklist: Elementary School

Download Back-to-School Checklist: Middle School and High School

Back-to-School Basic Essentials