Five Steps to Spending Less This Back-to-School Season

This content uses referral links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.

back to school

This post was first published July 5, 2011. Check the comments for some more tips from fellow Pocket Your Dollars readers!

As surely as Black Friday follows Thanksgiving, back-to-school sales follow the Fourth of July. Yes, friends, we are officially in back-to-school season. This coming weekend every major store will most likely include school supplies in their weekly sales flyers.

With a head start and a little planning you can spend significantly less this year than you have in times past. These five steps will help you do just that.

Make a List

Make a list of the school supplies your kids will need for the upcoming school year. If you don’t have lists on hand, then call the school or school district and request one for the grade they’ll be entering.

Of course doing this implies that you won’t deny the reality that back-to-school shopping is at hand. I know you’re enjoying summer, but really, believe me that it is better for your pocketbook to buy early than to blindly sail through July and wait until late August.

Start Early

Are you wondering why I’m even mentioning this now? “Can’t we wait until August to think about back-to-school?” you may wonder. You can wait, but the prices for school supplies will be lowest in July and ratchet up as Labor Day nears. Getting your act together now will pay off.

Price Compare

Each week, Pocket Your Dollars will provide a price comparison chart that lists prices for dozens of school supplies at 10 national retailers so that you can easily see who has the best price for each item. We’ll also keep track of the season’s best price for each item so you know if this week’s sale is truly a sale.

Shop Clothing Clearance

July is one of two months annually (January is the other) when retailers turn over their merchandise en masse, creating huge clearance sales for consumers. I’d encourage you to make a list of all the clothes, shoes, boots and accessories your kids will need in the next 6-12 months, along with their sizes. Then, as Pocket Your Dollars highlights great deals and you spot bargains in-store, you can quickly decide if an item is something you need. (Remember, to me, a deal isn’t a great deal unless it is 75% off or better.)

Commit a Budget

I hope you’ve been setting some money aside each month or each paycheck to have on hand for back-to-school shopping. If you haven’t, then figure out how much cash (yes cash…c-a-s-h) you can set aside each paycheck between now and Labor Day so you avoid debt this year.

Once you figure out how much or how little you have to work with, commit to it. You won’t spend less this year unless you make a conscious decision to do something differently.

Your turn: What are your biggest back-to-school budget busters?


  1. Karen says


    I just wanted to say thanks so much for the education & lists for school supplies!! My son is going into 1st grade & my daughter preschool this year! Last year with your help I was able to get all of my son's supplies (& it was a LONG list) for under $10.00!! I'm so grateful for all the work you & your team do to help everyone out!! Looking forward to bargain school supply/clothes shopping!!

  2. Karen Mc says

    Could you please share ideas for saving money on college text books again … I think it was posted about a year ago. THANK YOU

    • JoAnna says

      Karen Mc–

      Check Amazon for lower priced new and used textbooks. Also, most colleges will have an area where students post used books for sale (or, probably on-line now–there was a bulletin board at my college in the 90s). Also, Craigs List and Ebay.

  3. says

    Don't rule out posting want-ads on campus (especially if you can get free printing through the school) and answering ads for textbooks for sale. I have saved money this way. Also, depending on the class, you can get the ebook cheaper as long as the instructor does not require a hard copy of the text. Look for a coupon code on retailmenot or google before you submit! This is great if you get that free printing as well.

    One more thing–email the instructor. Sometimes you can get the same benefit from an earlier edition which will usually be a third of what the used newer edition would cost. Try to wait to purchase extra manuals and lecture guides until the first day of class (check with the instructor on this, some require materials on the first day) because 1) sometimes they inform you that you didn't, after all, have to purchase the additional manuals/lecture guides and 2) lecture guides, research manuals, and lab manuals are usually written by the instructor and might even be available to print from the school site free. HTH! Good luck, college is definitely worth it so congrats on a new year!

  4. says

    My biggest tip if I needed back to school supplies would be to either buy from garage sales like mom and I have, or buy things after school starts on clearance for next year. I know people use school supply lists but what kid doesn't need paper, notebooks, folders and pencils?

  5. Mary says

    Our principal made sure to point out that the items on the list do not have to be new if we have leftovers from last year. My daughter's watercolor paints can definitely be used again along with her scissors and pencil box. That saves quite a bit.

    Plus make sure to check the price per item! I remember two years ago, my daughter needed 4 glue sticks. They were each 20 or 25 cents (I can't remember) but the 4 pack was over $2! So of course, I bought all individual glue sticks.

  6. Ruth says

    I had a friend in college who always checked the library first. Worked great, especially for English classes or any where fictional books were required.

  7. Mary says

    I so wanted to be the mean frugal mom today. My daughter's list says that her folders and notebooks must match (to keep sorted by subject matter). If I was going to be mean mom, I would tell her that she had to get the plain solid colored notebooks and folders. But I remember what it was like to be 10 and wanting the "cool" patterns etc. It literally hurt to spend 5 times as much on notebooks and folders, but it's those little things that make her happy. She does know that any replacements during the school year will be the plain ones that I buy at 75% off in September.

    What also frustrates me is that the Target closest to us is out of everything the moment it goes on sale. If I waited until these items are on sale, they will be gone by Sunday afternoon. So several items, I end up buying at full price just to be able to get them. I am hoping if they go on sale in the next two weeks, I can get the difference refunded. Plus I just can't handle going from store to store with the kids in tow trying to get all of these items for a few cents less at each store.

    Our Target wasn't even carrying Papermate pens this week, only Bic and the Sharpie markers were not on sale at our Target.

  8. Anne says

    I would always check my local library network first as well and it always worked great saving me money!!

  9. Sarah says

    I often use It's an eBay company where people sell their unwanted books/music/dvds/etc. at prices they set. The shipping is fairly reasonable, too!

  10. says

    That season again, the hustle and bustle of getting back to school. Thanks for sharing this, I guess it really boils down to early meticulous planning and research to score the best deals on items…thanks for the advice!

  11. says

    I also recommend shopping consignment stores. You can get some great deals on “name brand” clothing at great prices, my teens especially care about what they wear.

  12. David S. @PBC says

    Hi Carrie,
    You have spelled out good ideas for parents who are trying to save money at the start of the school season. Aside from these suggestions, shopping online can also be beneficial and convenient. Besides, web-based vendors normally have more inventory than traditional sellers.

  13. says

    Well, what can I say I have printed so many coupons from this site. And have kept my eye on the deals that readers have made and copied them. So I will trust your advice here. Thanks

Speak Your Mind

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *