On Fridays, I share tips I have actually used to save my family money, along with my once-a-month grocery update. The posts will (typically) be short and sweet, giving you ideas to work on saving money or, in this case, preparing in order to save more.
Though we don’t really want to think about it (or maybe some of us are ready!), there is no denying the first day of school is just around the corner. School supplies and clothes for the school year can really add up but if you follow these tips and start your preparations now, you can get what you need and still manage to do it on a budget.
10 tips for frugal back-to-school shopping
1. Take inventory of what you already have
Have kids try on all clothes and shoes to see what still fits and what doesn’t (and consider selling/consigning clothing they’ve outgrown).
Look around the house – what school supplies are left from last year? Can they use the same backpack and/or lunchbox? (My kids will both be able to use the same binder and my daughter will be using the same lunchbox, but I’m on the hook for two backpacks!)
2. Make a list of needs (clothing and school supplies)
After taking your inventory, write down everything that needs to be purchased. Take a hard look at your list to see if everything on it is a necessity. Jot down estimated costs for each item and add them up to see if it’s within your budget.
3. Use a set budget
Stick to your list and your budget to avoid overspending.
Consider giving your child a budgeted amount of money to spend on what they need. This is particularly useful for tweens and teens who are shopping for clothing – it forces them to shop smarter!
4. Host a clothing swap
Gather a group of friends or co-workers and have everyone bring all of their kids’ outgrown clothing and shoes. Everyone can then “shop” for free. This works best for the younger kids, ages 3-11 years or so (probably not going to work as well for teens, just sayin’ – I have two teens and this wouldn’t fly).
5. Shop garage sales, thrift stores and consignment shops
With list in hand, hit the garage sales and thrift stores on a weekend and see how many items you can check off your list. This can be fun (even for teens) and saves a ton of money over retail.
Consider consigning all outgrown clothes and shop at the same consignment store. I use this method for “free clothes” at our local consignment store – I just take a bag of clothes/shoes in every so often and shop on my credit.
6. Utilize the Sales Tax Holiday
Many states offer a weekend to shop sales tax free. Though it isn’t a huge savings, it can really add up if you have to resort to shopping retail. Here is a list of sales tax holiday dates for each state that offers it.
7. Shop the loss leaders
Loss leaders are items retailers sell at a loss to attract customers to their stores. They are typically found on the front page of weekly ads (and sometimes on the very last page). Keep an eye out for huge discounts on school supplies in several ads and pick up the loss leaders in bulk when you get the opportunity.
8. Don’t limit yourself to certain stores
Office supply stores often have good sales during the back to school season (watch the flyers), but don’t rule out shopping at alternative stores. Some stores you may not think about are craft stores, grocery stores, dollar stores and even home improvement stores and they often have great deals during back-to-school time.
9. Buy in bulk
When you find a killer deal, stock up! Pencils and pens get lost, notebooks get used up and, before you know it, you’re shopping for more school supplies a couple of months down the road. Pens, pencils, notebooks, folders and glue are great to have on hand for those morning school supply “emergencies” (you know what I’m talking about, right?).
Don’t forget to check prices at warehouse stores, such as Sam’s Club and Costco, who sell office/school supplies in large quantities at a discount.
10. Consider waiting
If you have enough school supplies to get by for the first few weeks of school, consider waiting for clearance prices when stores are trying to clear inventory. After school starts, many stores rapidly mark down their school supplies (Target comes to mind here).
How do you cut down on your school supply costs? Are you able to use anything from last year?