How to Save Right Now On Back to School Costs

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Back to school costs can easily get out of hand, but they don't have to. Here are 4 ways to save money on back to school supplies and saving your budget.

Late spring and early summer is the time where almost everyone, even year-round students rest from their labors and enjoy some well deserved time off. Most people across the country graduated already, whether that’s from preschool or college. Now is the time to enjoy summer, plan some beach vacations and relax, so most people won’t be thinking about the back to school costs that will creep up on them in just a month or two.

However, if you can plan out how to save on back to school supplies now, it will be far less stressful on your budget in the fall. After all, the National Retail Federation predicted that parents would spend nearly $76 billion on back to school shopping last year. Plus, parents are often expected to purchase more and more supplies each year. So, below are a few ways to plan and manage those expenses in the coming months.

Shop at Garage Sales


Summer is the best time to go to garage sales, especially if you want to save money on kids clothes. I see them in my neighborhood every weekend now that the weather is nicer. When you go to a garage sale, look for unused school supplies like notebooks, pens, papers, binders, staplers and paperclips.

Garage sales are also a good spot to look for gently used backpacks, winter boots and even school uniforms if you’re shopping in a local area.

Collect Discounted Gift Cards


There are numerous companies who will buy unused gift cards and then sell them to consumers like you for a discounted rate. Many companies specialize in selling discounted gift cards.

Some, like Giftcard Granny, make it so easy to find gift cards to major retailers that you’ll never want to buy one in the grocery store aisle or at Walmart again.

If Amazon gift cards are your thing, there are plenty of ways to earn free Amazon gift cards so you don’t have to pay full price (or anything at all) for those either.

The one catch about discounted gift card sites is that the most popular stores, like Amazon, go much faster than a shoe store gift card no one has heard about. So, if you start looking at these sites now, you might be able to snag a Walmart or Target gift card to use for your school supplies.

If you slowly collect these gift cards over the summer, you’ll be able to use them when you get your school supply list.

Check Out Outlet Malls


When my husband was younger, his parents took him to the beach every summer, and this particular beach happened to be right next to a huge outlet mall.

His mom would buy all of their back to school clothes at that outlet mall in the middle of the summer. She was great at getting good deals and really maximizing her dollars to clothe four kids for the school year.

Many people have an outlet mall within driving distance of them. Shopping during the fall right before school starts is hectic, busy and stressful. However, shopping now during the early part of the summer is a great way to find good deals without the crowds.

If you don’t have a discount mall by you, the clearance section at Kohl’s is always a good option to save money on quality clothing items.

Back to school costs can easily get out of hand, but they don't have to. Here are 4 ways to save money on back to school supplies and saving your budget.

Buy in Bulk


For the first time ever, I packed my kids a lunch because they had their first summer camp experience.

They are only 3-years-old, but they absolutely loved their lunch boxes. They kept zipping them and unzipping them, and they told me all about their snacks and what they ate when I picked them up from camp.

However, I realized how pricey it can be to plan to pack lunch for your kids every day, and I only had to plan for one week. I wanted them to eat healthy food so I put a lot of organic snacks and berries in their lunches.

I started to think about the costs of packing lunches during the school year, and I realized it would be helpful to buy those snacks in bulk. The ability to save money at Costco on things that you would normally buy anyway, is another easy way to save on back to school costs.

For example, if you could buy goldfish crackers when they’re on sale one week and then a different snack the next time you go, you could collect a lot of lunch snacks slowly over the summer and you would likely save money because you can buy your kids’ favorite snacks when they’re on sale.

Ultimately, I just want to encourage you to prepare for your back-to-school purchases now so there are no financial surprises in the fall.

By looking for some supplies at garage sales, buying in bulk and checking out sales as they come all summer long, you should be well prepared to send your kids back to school in style without suffering financially.


What are some of the best ways you save on back to school costs? Do you enjoy visiting outlet malls to shop for clothes or shoes? What are some of the best deals you’ve snagged at Costco or Sam’s Club?

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Catherine Alford is the go to personal finance expert for parents who want to better their finances and take on a more active financial role in their families.


  • Tara says:

    Don’t forget shopping at Aldi for groceries. Unless you’re buying the Kirkland brand at Costco, it won’t be that cheap–often loss-leader sales at regular grocery stores are cheaper per ounce/pound for brand name foods. But if you can’t depend on grocery store sales that change weekly for a regular shopping list, Aldi sells their generic for a steal, and doesn’t require bulk quantities. I still love Costco’s generic and I buy brand names when they’re on coupon, but I generally avoid regular priced brand names at Costco for things that I can getting off-brand for cheaper. Also, since Aldi has been successful here, another discount European grocery store is moving to the US — Lidl is coming! We are lucky to be getting one of those down the block from us in a Philly suburb. Can’t wait for more affordable grocery options!

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    It seems like everyone in Minnesota LOVES Costco, but I honestly haven’t even been in the store before :0 Growing up my parents went to Sam’s Club, but I haven’t seen a reason to buy a membership yet. But maybe once I have a larger family bulk buying will make more sense : )

    • Cat says:

      It’s true. Unless you need it for dog food or something there’s not much of a reason to buy in bulk without kids.

  • Sandra says:

    Go though the things the kids brought home at the end of the year. Reuse items that are still in good shape. Watch for school supplies to be on sale before school starts. Then stock up on basics like folders, crayons, pencils, notebooks, etc, so you can replenish their supplies throughout the school year without having to buy things at full price later.

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