According to the National Retail Federation, the average family is planning to spend $848.90 on back-to-school supplies this year—way up from last year.
Apparently, I'm the one who's bringing that average way down, as we've nearly always spent far less than that on school supplies for my two kids (even when we buy the 64-pack of Crayolas!).
You don't have to spend a small fortune to get your kids outfitted for school this year—especially if you've already got some back-to-school supplies sitting around the house. (Hello, colored pencils from your adult coloring book phase.)
Try these back-to-school shopping hacks to keep your spending under control.
Reuse and Recycle
Unless your kids are absolute monsters on their school supplies, there are probably things you can salvage from last year's set. Their backpack and lunchbox may just need a good wash, and there are probably binders, pens, and pencils that can be put back into rotation. I've even been able to pull unused pages out of spiral notebooks to be used as loose-leaf paper the following year. (Save the trees!)
Invest in Gear That's Built to Last
Sometimes, you really do get what you paid for. I've been a huge fan of L.L. Bean backpacks, after mine lasted through high school, college and grad school. My daughters are each on their second one—we bought tiny ones when they started elementary, and then full-sized when they were in middle school. They cost more to begin with, but make up for it when you don't have to buy a new one every couple of years.
(Fun savings hack: If your kid's into characters, you can always buy inexpensive stickers, patches, or keychains to adorn a simpler backpack—they can be swapped out as their tastes change.)
Shop Online for Back-to-School Clothes
Not only do you avoid those "gotta have this" bonus purchases, but with a little hunting, you can save a fortune with coupon codes and sites like Rakuten, which give you cash back on purchases from a wide range of stores (including back-to-school fashion favorites like Old Navy, Children's Place, and Target).
Minimize Your Back-to-School Shopping Now
Your kids aren't going to be pulling on that cute sweatshirt any time soon—odds are you have at least a month of summery weather where your kids can use their favorite shorts and tees. Putting it off a few weeks lets them see what's in vogue, so you make fewer purchases that sit in the back of the closet—plus you don't have to worry that a growth spurt over that month turns those new jeans into capris while they're still wearing their summer shorts. (And bonus: Those back-to-school clothes will be on sale to make room for holiday stuff!)
Focus Your Time and Effort on Big-Ticket Items
Running to five different stores to save 50 cents on notebooks or crayons isn't a good use of your time or energy. Focus on saving cash on bigger-ticket supplies (lunch boxes, calculators, computers, and clothing) to get a bigger savings bang for your buck.
Compare Your Shopping List to the Sales Fliers
Keep a calculator handy and tally up what you still need supply-wise, based on the store sales fliers. Do your supply shopping at a max of two spots to minimize the hassle of running all over town.
Skip the Disposables
Plastic baggies for school lunches are only cheap to start—but you have to keep replenishing them. (And don't forget what all those baggies do to the environment!) Spring for reusable lunch containers for sandwiches and snacks to help save the planet (and your pocketbook).
And you can even do that with notebooks too. Give your teen a Rocketbook notebook, where they can take notes, use the app to upload them to Google Drive or another file-saving service, then wipe clean with a damp microfiber cloth and reuse it. (Bonus: Never worry about lost notes again!)
Buy Plain and DIY
You'll pay more for the jazzier school supplies. I like to get plain white binders or simple folders, and let my kids get creative with creating collages to dress them up. (That makes it easier for them to spot theirs in a sea of school supplies.)
Save on Extracurricular Gear
There are a lot of bargains this time of year on glue sticks—but not always on lacrosse sticks. (And let's face it: Those extracurricular costs can really add up!)
Look for used equipment on places like Facebook Marketplace, Play It Again Sports, eBay, or Craigslist. Odds are you'll find some very gently used items for a significant discount. I was able to keep my youngest child in cleats for three seasons for just a few dollars thanks to Facebook, and scored both kids very reasonably priced musical instruments on eBay.
Let Your Kids Cover Their Own Wish Lists
I always cover the basics, but when my child wanted a locker disco ball, I wasn't prepared to pay $15 for that little item. Let your kids learn the value of money by either setting aside a small budget they can spend for fun items or school supply upgrades, or letting your kids buy them themselves with their allowance, birthday money, or other savings. (It was so strange how quickly my child cooled to the disco ball when their own money was involved.)