6 tips to help with back-to-school budgeting and shopping

Stress-free saving

As the start of a new school year approaches, these back-to-school budgeting and shopping tips can help you feel confident and financially prepared.

The start of the school year indicates new beginnings: New teacher, new curriculum, new wardrobe, and, of course, fresh new school supplies.

By adopting the strategies below and doing a little homework in advance of your back-to-school shopping, you can breathe a little easier and keep your spending on track.

The highlights:

  • Starting a new school year with a back-to-school budget can help you feel prepared and ease stress about spending.
  • Getting your kids involved can get them excited about returning to the classroom and provide a financial learning opportunity.
  • Planning ahead, doing your research, comparing prices, and buying used items are just a few ways to save money while shopping for school.

Ace your back-to-school budget planning.

The best way to set a budget for the upcoming school year is to look at how much you spent last year and use that as a starting point. If this is your first school year, or if you’re adding an additional kid into the mix, make a list of all the required items you need with price points.

Your back-to-school spending may be higher this year if there are new, big-ticket items on the list. Maybe your high school student needs a new laptop, or your middle schooler needs hockey gear.

“Ideally you’re thinking about these things in advance of the first day of school,” says Brian Ford, head of financial wellness at Truist. “If you start estimating back-to-school costs in the spring or early summer, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Make back-to-school shopping a group project.

Many kids enjoy back-to-school shopping, and it can be a fun activity to do together. Making a list of what they need for school with a realistic spending limit (for example, $100 for a back-to-school clothes budget) can empower kids to make choices for themselves while helping you stay on budget.

“Making a list, giving them a budget, allowing them some freedom within that budget—these are all really good things that help kids understand personal finance,” Ford says. “Back-to-school shopping can help kids get excited to learn, and make them want to go to school.”

Buying clothes and supplies for a new school year is an investment in your child’s education and their ability to feel confident at school. And if your kids happen to learn some financial lessons while shopping, that’s a bonus.

6 back-to-school shopping tips to help you save money

Once you have a budget outlined and know which items you need, there are a few tried-and-true steps that can help you avoid overspending while shopping for back-to-school.

1. Reuse what you can from last year. Take inventory of what you have from last year. You may be able to hold off on buying new lunch boxes, sneakers, or binders if the ones you have are still in good shape after a thorough cleaning.

2. Start early. “We don’t make good financial decisions when we feel rushed and stressed,” says Ford. By starting to shop early in the summer, you’ll have a better selection to choose from and may be able to find lower-priced items before they sell out.

3. Buy used. Try looking on local online forums, shopping at consignment or thrift stores, and putting a call out to neighbors with older kids for bigger-ticket items that you can buy as hand-me-downs. Clothing, sports equipment, and backpacks are all great items to buy used and give new life. And consider purchasing refurbished technology—most items come with a warranty in case something doesn’t work.

4.  Keep an eye out for special sales. Similar to last year, those big summer sales holidays are ripe for scoring back-to-school deals. In fact, 68% of shoppers have planned to use annual online sales events to shop for back-to-school deals—a number that’s jumped again, with only 55% doing so in 2019 according to the National Retail Federation’s report.Disclosure 1 Plus, there are the tax-free holidays, when sales tax is waived or reduced on certain categories of items, though these holidays aren’t available in every state.

5.  Compare prices and utilize price matching. Comparing prices can be done in advance online. If you find a good deal at one store, you can also see if other retailers will match it and offer the same discount.

6.   Shop discount stores and generic brands. Dollar stores have great options for back-to-school classroom supplies. And buying generic can save you over time—saving even 50 cents on notebooks and folders can add up when you’re buying 10 per kid

A final note: While all the newness of back-to-school can be exciting, it can also sometimes be stressful. Bright Dickson, the resident specialist in positive psychology at Truist, says that whether you’re a kid or a parent, it’s normal to have some fear about the upcoming unknown. But as a parent, you can help manage any stress your kids are feeling by taking steps to manage your own stress.

“Kids are excellent readers of emotion, and they’re reading you all the time,” Dickson says. “So check your own anxiety about returning to school, and do what you need to do to manage it. That’ll help your kids ease their own worries.”

Projected 2024-2025 back-to-school budgetsDisclosure 2

Plan to spend more than $800.

Plan to spend between $800-$1000.

Plan to spend are at more than $1000.

The $100-$300 spenders decreased from 43% to 31% for 2024.

Next step suggestions:

  • Look at your past back-to-school spending to predict next year’s budget. Ask your school for a supply list to inform what you may need to buy.
  • Make a complete list of everything needed (supplies, shoes, electronics, etc.) and look up price points for each.
  • Take inventory of what you have from last year, note the sale days for your retailers of choice, and keep an eye out for used items in online neighborhood marketplaces.

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