Join my email list and get FREE ACCESS to the MSM Freebie Library, including my top printables & eBooks.

5 Simple Tips for Saving Big on Back to School Expenses

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Save BIG on back to school expenses with these simple tips!!

School is starting really soon (or has already started!) and that means there are probably a number of different things you need to purchase — from school supplies to clothes for your kids for fall and winter to electronics and more.

Here are five simple tips to help you save big on those back to school expenses…

5 Ways to Save Big on Back to School Expenses

1. Create a Budget.

You knew I was going to say this first, didn’t you? But it’s imperative to start by knowing how much you have to spend.

Without a budget, you won’t have parameters for what you have to work with and there’s a good chance money will just slip through your fingers like sand.

I always recommend that you consider using a cash budget. Why? Because this gives you instant self-discipline: when the money’s gone, the money’s gone!

If you don’t really have any money to work with at all, is there something you could sell to drum up some extra cash? Could you cash in some of your points on Swagbucks for gift cards you could use toward school supplies? Could you sell last year’s wardrobe that your child outgrew to fund this year’s wardrobe?

Also, consider having a swap meet with your friends to swap school supplies and clothes. Bring what you don’t need/no longer use and swap it with others.

5 Ways to Save Big on Back to School Expenses

2. Identify Needs vs. Wants.

Once you’ve determined your budget, then you need to take a hard look at what you can realistically afford in that budget. If money is especially tight, focus on the most important items first.

If your child desperately needs new shoes because the only ones they have are two sizes too small, that’s a high priority. Start with what is a true need versus just a “would be nice to have” first.

This is a great conversation to have with your children to help them understand what a need is and what a want is. It’s not wrong to spend money on wants, but help your child learn how to prioritize needs first. This is a valuable lesson for them to understand and grasp at an early age and will benefit them all their life.

5 Ways to Save Big on Back to School Expenses

3. Compare Prices

Use an app like Flipp (it’s free to download!) to price compare all of the best deals at local stores in your area. Then, either hit the store with the most deals or, stop at Walmart and price-match all the best deals at your local stores.

To do this, just check the ads, make a list of local prices, take these to Walmart, and tell your cashier what local prices you’re price-matching on the items you’re purchasing. Walmart’s corporate coupon policy says you don’t need an ad in order to price-match, however, I usually bring the ads with me in case there’s any issue or confusion about what the price is. {Flipp makes it really easy to price-match at Walmart because you can have all of the ads right at your fingertips!}

5 Ways to Save Big on Back to School Expenses

4. Buy Used.

Thrift stores, yard sales, consignment sales, and online sites such as ThredUp can be a treasure trove of bargains on back to school clothes for kids. You have to dig, but if you are patient, you can find incredible deals.

One of my favorite ways to find good deals at thrift stores is to go on the dollar days. Not all thrift stores have them, but it’s definitely worth checking into to see if your local thrift stores offer fill a bag for $5 or $1 days. Also, sign up for your thrift store’s email list to be notified of when they are having special offers and sales.

We’ve gotten amazing deals at consignment sales over the years, too. If you have extra time and energy, you can volunteer or sell at a consignment sale and you’ll usually be able to get first dibs on the deals — and possibly better pricing, too.

I’d highly recommend reading this article on how to stockpile clothes by shopping at yard sales. If you want to be even more strategic, check out this article on How to Shop Yard Sales for Free.

For more suggestions on how to maximize your consignment sale shopping experience, check out this article on Saving and Making Money With Consignment Sales and this article on How Selling on Consignment Works For Me.

5 Ways to Save Big on Back to School Expenses

5. Buy Extras.

When looking at the back-to-school sales, don’t just buy what’s on the required list from your local school. Buy extras of things such as glue, crayons, paper, notebooks, markers and other items you use on a regular basis around your home.

These sales are a great opportunity to stock up on office and craft supplies we use on a regular basis—all at the cheapest prices you’ll be able to get all year.

In addition, because many teachers have to pay for some of their classroom supplies out of pocket, how about buying extras of the great deals and donating them to your children’s’ classroom or purchasing them for a local family who is struggling financially?

How do YOU save on back to school supplies?

This post is underwritten by Flipp — an app that brings all of the weekly sales fliers from your local stores to the digital age in a dynamic and personalized way, and aggregates all your favorite circulars onto one digital device for access anywhere, anytime.

With Flipp, busy parents have seamless access to their favorite weekly ad fliers from their favorite retailers  – and all the savings of each weekly circular right in their fingertips – without lugging around paper or cutting coupons!

What sets Flipp apart from other circular apps is that users can search by retailer (local groceries, larger big-box stores), or search for specific items (backpacks, notebooks, clothes, cereal), or even search for a specific savings amount, and they can create shopping lists to start the shopping experience beforehand or in the store right on their digital device.

With Flipp’s new shopping list feature, shoppers can quickly find the best deals for their weekly essentials. Once they’re in the store, users can easily check off items from their list – built right into the app! – to ensure they pick up everything they need (and also stick to their list!).

Download Flipp on iTunes or Google Play.

Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!


  • Emma says:

    I would add to not just think about “wants” and “needs” but also to consider when you need things. Sure, you may need long-sleeve shirts in a couple of months but do you need to buy them in August or can you wait for clearance sales later? Some stores have good Labor Day sales.

    For some supplies, you can wait and talk to the teacher. For example, our supply list always asked for watercolor paints. As a 4th grade teacher, I didn’t need watercolor paints from every student every year. We did communal supplies for items such as this and so I could use the same supplies year after year. Kleenex on the other hand, was always needed!

    My Bright Blue House

  • K says:

    My local WalMart recently told me I had to have the sales flyers to price match. One cashier also limited me to one price match per item (ie. She would only price match 1 pkg of crayons instead of 2) & would not accept digital ads from a cell phone. When I told her WalMart’s Corporate policy, she said it’s their local policy.

  • Jennifer says:

    I’ve been hitting the drugstores hard for rock bottom school supply prices. Walgreen’s the past couple weeks has had packages of pens and pencils for .29 cents.

  • We cheerfully accept any and all hand-me-downs. My daughter’s entire wardrobe was bought by my mother-in-law for $25 from a friend of hers from church. And, we saved my older son’s clothing and now my younger son can wear them. Frugal and environmentally-friendly–win-win!

  • Julie says:

    in addition to Emma’s comment, when shopping the sales (if money permits) try to stock up for next year. Last year I got 2 polo’s at Target for $2.40 each they only had white and navy blue–but for the price it was worth it ( regular price $8.00) . My kids have to wear collared shirts. The ones that are in our thrift store are cheaper but have stains etc… Also this year (as a teaching tool) we gave each child a sent amount and used coupons. One child got a skirt for.49 cents… Yes .49 cents !! She loves it and has already gotten the money’s worth out of it! (JCPennys had a $10.00 off a purchase of $10.00 or more).

  • J A says:

    Our county fair in the week before school, so whenever we go we pick up pens and pencils from many of the vendors. So our kids have what they need and we didn’t have to purchase them. I also get pads of paper ( for next to the phone , lists, excuses etc…

  • Patty says:

    My trick with school supplies is to look around the house and see what we already have. We saved $30-40 last year doing this.

    Those 40 pencils on the supply list? They don’t have to be brand spankin’ new. Obviously, I wouldn’t send stubs or pencils with no erasers, but we managed to gather 40 “gently used” pencils no problem.

    Same with binders. No reason not to use last year’s if they’re still in good condition. Same with spiral notebooks with only a few pages missing.

    My own home is the first place I shop.

    • Ashley P says:

      I had a similar conversation with a friend. She pointed out how annoying it is that she buys new backpacks every year. To which I responded…”Why?”

      I used the same backpack for like 6 years before the bottom finally gave out. Just get something in a neutral color (mine was black) and you can use it for years, and even pass it on to someone else if it’s still in good shape.

      • Paula says:

        I spent a little extra money when my daughter was going into first grade to buy her an LL Bean backpack. By the end of fifth grade this year it had developed a hole in the bottom seam. Called LLBean and they have a lifetime guarantee on their backpacks. So I was able to bring it in to a local outlet and return it and leave with a brand new one. It may have been more expensive when I first bought it, but worth it since I won’t have to buy another one.

        When I related this story on a FB mom group thread asking about reliable backpack threads, one of the other moms actually commented that the problem with LL Bean backpacks is that they last too long and it’s a problem when the kids decide they want a new design.

  • Karen Rucker says:

    We’re on a super tight budget, but we also don’t want to send our kids into school with gear that is depressingly plain when compared to what the other kids have. So instead of spending $30 or $40 on a fancy backpack, we buy a cheap one and decorate it. We doodle on it with sharpies or paint pens or sew on some trim. Since we use supplies we have on hand, it only costs us time. But they have a lot of fun designing them, and they end up with a unique design that reminds them that their family loves them.

    • Christy Carden says:

      But, if you buy a fancy backpack, they will last FOREVER and you don’t have a yearly expense. I lucked out and got my son a used Jansport for $10. I got an alligator applique put on from a local lady for $7. He used it for 1st and 2nd (after the no name brand barely made it through K and tore up). The zipper broke. They have a lifetime warranty. Googled, mailed back–no receipt since I bought used. They fixed the zipper and mailed back. He has now decided it is too small and has claimed my husband’s Jansport from college (it has several pockets). So, if it breaks, we can also mail it in. We are saving the smaller one for when our youngest starts K next year. We will probably have the same lady remove the alligator and replace with something he wants. LL Bean has similar warranties. Look around for used!

      • Karen Rucker says:

        Actually, not with my kids. We used to spend a lot of money on backpacks. Turns out that even Jansport can’t stand up to what my kids can do to a backpack. They tore holes in the bottom of them within a year. So we switched to buying cheaper ones. Not plastic. Not poorly made. Just cheaper. And we found it saved us a lot of money. For the price of one Jansport, we can buy ten cheap backpacks. Even with the lifetime warranty, it’s cheaper to buy a $3 canvas backpack from Walgreens than it is to pay shipping to mail the Jansport backpack back to the company.

  • Chris says:

    Totally beside the point, but look at the first picture and then the second picture. The girl on that book looks just like your daughter! 🙂

  • leisa Parker says:

    We budget for back to school and clothing all year long. So we see sales I can get it and set aside. The last 2 yrs I have gotten my 6 kids fall clothing on sale on clearance at a fraction of the cost. I also hit a resale shop in st. Louis that has a clearance sale on jeans for 1 dollar. My kids get name brand clothes I would never be able to afford like justice, Mudd and Arizona. We also buy extra supplies like crayons and 1 subject note books for Christmas. My kids love drawing.

  • Jessica says:

    I shop through the year, including garage sales, church sales, thrift stores and clearance sales for my kids’ clothes. We buy new shoes, socks and underwear. This is a great time of year for those. Meijer has a sale this week on spend $40 on Hanes socks, underwear and under shirts, get a $15 off your next order. I did this offer on our tax-free holiday and the packages I got had $.50 coupons attached. So I spend $39.83 on a year’s worth of underpants, socks and under shirts for my son and husband. Then I used that $15 off to buy my milk, eggs, bread and fruit!

  • Cathy says:

    Great tips! Something else I’ve learned is NOT to buy cheaply made backpacks. They tend to fall apart a few weeks/months into the year. Instead, we bought from well-known companies with excellent guarantees (on sale, of course). Also, when uniforms are a great price in July and August, go ahead and buy for fall because when you actually start needing the cooler weather clothes, the sizes are picked over and it’s hard to find anything to fit.

    • SuzanneH says:

      So true! Jansport is the best. Thankfully lots of stores that have generous coupons carry them (i.e. Kohls, JC Penney, etc.). You can get one for $20-$25 after coupons and it will literally last a lifetime. My suggestion is to buy a solid color – not a trendy design that will go out of style. I still love my black Jansport bought in 1989 – used it through 3 years of high school, 5 years of college and lots of trips all over the place!

    • Jessica says:

      I agree. My 8 year old is now using the Jansport I got in college. Lifetime guarantee.

    • Christy Carden says:

      Agree–copy and pasted from my comment above: if you buy a fancy backpack, they will last FOREVER and you don’t have a yearly expense. I lucked out and got my son a used Jansport for $10. I got an alligator applique put on from a local lady for $7. He used it for 1st and 2nd (after the no name brand barely made it through K and tore up). The zipper broke. They have a lifetime warranty. Googled, mailed back–no receipt since I bought used. They fixed the zipper and mailed back. He has now decided it is too small and has claimed my husband’s Jansport from college (it has several pockets). So, if it breaks, we can also mail it in. We are saving the smaller one for when our youngest starts K next year. We will probably have the same lady remove the alligator and replace with something he wants. LL Bean has similar warranties. Look around for used!

  • SuzanneH says:

    The best tip I have is to keep a couple of pairs of shoes in the next 1-2 sizes up on hand. This has saved me so many times when suddenly my son has a giant hole in his shoe or starts telling me his toes hurt because his shoes are too small! The best deal I’ve found is buying shoes from Kohls. For example, I just bought him 2 pairs on Monday – 1 for school and 1 the next size up to put away. I used a $10/$30 code, a 30% off code and a free shipping code (did 2 transactions and used all codes twice). I paid $18 per pair (reg. price was $40) and spent $0 in gas and very little time! When I get them, I tuck the invoice into the shoe box and put them in a closet. If, for some reason we don’t end up using them, I can take them back at any point under Kohls’ very generous return policy! I’ve taken shoes back a year out (when my son decided to grow 2 sizes instead of 1!) without a problem. Note: I do pay off my Kohls card each month which makes this scenario feasible.

    • Cory says:

      I joined FAMOUS FOOTWEAR rewards program it’s free.. They run BOGO 1/2 off + additional discount 15%. If you accumulate enough points you get a $10 coupon to use too. I spent on 4 pairs of shoes $70.. I will usually buy a couple pairs for myself/husband so the points add up pretty fast.

  • If you have a little more wiggle room in your budget I recommend paying a little more for high quality items that can be used year to year. We bought my son a backpack that was a little more expensive when he was in the second grade. He is in the 8th grade and still uses it. It was totally worth paying $30 for instead of a cheaper character backpack.

  • Patty says:

    And no new lunchboxes for us, either. I’m still using the same 2 Laptop Lunchboxes I got for my daughter in kindergarten … and she is going into 7th grade! Some pieces have been replaced due to losing them, but the boxes themselves look good as new.

    Clothes? Goodwill on 50% off day.

  • Andrea says:

    When you buy your school supplies think about the operation Christmas child boxes. If you do those now is a great time to get stuff to fill them for next to nothing.

  • I have never heard about Flipp before. Sounds like something I should definitely check out. My son is still little and goes to preschool, but just like schoolkids, we need extra things for the fall. I shop around in his own closet, because there are always some clothes that I have bought on sale long time ago, but were too big for him before.

  • Cory says:

    I went through both my boys last years supplies and recycled a few things. We bought nice JANSPORT backpacks 3 yrs ago & have held up well. My younger son wanted new but, when I showed him the price he understood it wasn’t necessary. Same with lunch boxes.
    I saved gc from Target during stock/save days so I had $40 in those + combined with cartwheel deals, mobile coupons & manufacturer coupons and IBotta app. I spent out of pocket 9 cents!
    I did end up at STAPLES to replenish my stash & spent an additional $15..
    I also went through my boys clothing & they have what they need for awhile. I have TWO bags to pass on..

  • Danell says:

    On the last day of school I have my kids go through what they bring home and save anything they could still use the next year. So often the school supply list would ask for a ridiculous amount of glue sticks and dry erase markers and they never used them all up, so we’d save them for the next year. Same with binders, etc. They use the same backpacks until they fall apart. I’ve also found things I know they need at thrift stores though out the year, like binders and page dividers. This year, all they needed were a few pens, index cards, two folders and a graphing calculator. Not bad for two high schoolers.

    Instead of doing “back to school” shopping for clothes, I prefer to get them new clothes for Christmas or their birthdays if they need them. Other than that, I will get them things from garage sales or thrift stores when I see things they’d like. Shoes get replaced when they need to be replaced, not just because it’s a new school year.

  • Paula says:

    My biggest money saver is on school uniforms (my daughter attends parochial school). The school has uniform swaps a few times a year where we can bring in outgrown uniforms and take items we need. This is the third year that I’ve been able to get enough uniforms and haven’t had to buy anything new. So, the only clothing expenses I have for school are shoes, sneakers and socks.

    Next biggest saver is reusing. I would go through the supplies brought back at the end of the previous school year. Takes a bit of work, everything came back jumbled together on gallon zipper bags and/or plastic shopping bags. But it really only took about 10-15 minutes to sort through. I put the crayons and markers in separate zipper pouches and evaluate if we have enough of a set of each to send back for next year or keep for using at home. Same with pencils and pens. If they still work, they go back. Scissors, rulers, binders are not disposable items, those get reused every year. We use poly pocket folders rather than paper/cardboard. A dollar or so more, but they get used for multiple years, whereas with the other folders I would usually have to replace midyear when they rip. I know so many moms that just don’t want to deal with going through the stuff that they throw out the bag when it comes home and buy all new every year.

    This year our school is offering option to purchase the school supply “package” through a company they’re using and the supplies will be shipped to the school waiting for the kids on the first day. Everyone else is so excited about the convenience, but I’m not doing it. There’s no option for buying only certain items, has to be the whole package. But that includes almost all of the stuff that I’m able to reuse. Plus, even if I had to actually buy all the stuff on the list, it’s twice as much as what I’d pay (I priced it all out).

  • I give the kids a set budget to work with them and have them prioritize. This year my daughter’s backpack and lunch bag from last year are fine. Shoes and clothes are a higher priority for her. It forces her to work with a budget, which is a great skill at the age of 5 🙂 to learn.

Money Saving Mom® Comment Policy

We love comments from readers, so chime in with your thoughts below! We do our best to keep this blog upbeat and encouraging, so please keep your comments cordial and kind. Read more information on our comment policy.

Leave a Comment

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