These Are Some Of The Best Ways To Manage Your Back-To-School Budget

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Prepping for a new school year means savoring the last moments of summer, getting the kids back on a sleep schedule, and buying those all-important supplies. According to a survey from Deloitte, back-to-school shopping is second only to holiday gift-buying as the biggest expenditure parents face during any given year.

Back-to-school shopping is getting pricier, too. According to the National Retail Foundation, the average family will be shelling out $864 on classroom supplies and first-day outfits in 2022, up from $849 in 2021. The Deloitte survey found that more than half of families are worried about the cost of back-to-school products, but the NRF adds that parents view these expenses as necessities, and are willing to put in extra hours at work or do without luxuries in order to make it happen. 

But even if you've resolved to cut back on those iced caramel lattes, there are other things you can do to keep your school supply spending down. Whether you're looking for back-to-school laptop bags, bento lunch boxes, or the perfect outfit for those first day photos, here are some money-saving tricks you can use now, or keep in mind a few months down the line when the pencils start wearing down and the kids grow a couple of sizes overnight.

Take stock of what you already have

Before you load up your shopping cart with highlighters and binders, do a thorough search at home to see what you already have. Are there unused pencils on your own desk? Could you rip a couple of pages out of your child's marble notebooks and still have plenty of paper left for another go-round? Is that insulated lunch bag in good enough shape to last another year?

If your child needs desk accessories, try repurposing things you already have lying around: cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls, clean food storage containers. A clean coffee can makes a perfect pencil holder with a little redecorating. Stickers, glitter glue, and other craft items can help jazz up plain binders and folders to make them look as good as fancier (and more expensive) versions. Google "DIY desk organizer," and you'll find plenty of ideas.

But in some cases, splurging a little now can save you money in the long run. A quality sports or camping backpack can last two or three years, but a bargain bookbag may start falling apart even before the school year is over. 

It also helps to remember that you don't need to get everything on your list immediately, adds Penny Hoarder. Yes, your kids will need notebooks and writing supplies right away, but rulers and calculators can probably wait — and teachers won't mind if you send in the paper towels and tissues a few weeks late. 

Look online before hitting the stores

Buying online is not only convenient and COVID-safe, it can save you a lot in the long run. As USA Today points out, buying school supplies through Amazon or on the websites of your favorite retailers means not having to spend money on gas to get to the mall. Plus, there's the advantage of comparison shopping for the best prices without having to dash from store to store. Thanks to coupon sites like, Rakuten, and Hip2Save, you can also stay on top of current discounts on your favorite brands or preferred stores. 

The other advantage to shopping from home is that you don't have to involve your children. Of course, it's important to honor your kids' individuality when it comes to their style preferences, but USA Today adds that bringing them along on shopping trips can lead you to go over your budget. ("Oh, look at that fidget popper keychain and that cool rainbow day planner! Please, Mom?") Let your kids tell you their preferences in advance, but don't let them look over your shoulder while you're on your laptop. 

Buy bulk and share with friends

School lists often look like an inventory count for an office supply store: a dozen two-pocket folders, six-packs of red and black ballpoint pens, stacks of spiral and composition notebooks. Rather than scooping up piles of individual items, buy them in bulk, either online or at a warehouse store like Costco or BJ's. Not only is it more convenient, but most likely, you'll save money as well. 

Better still, suggests WPTV, join forces with friends or fellow school parents and buy bulk supplies together. For instance, Amazon sells 50-count cases of one-subject spiral notebooks for $65. Five parents could each contribute $13 toward the order and get 10 notebooks apiece. A group of 10 families could go in on this giant box of ballpoint pens; at under $25 for a set of 240 pens, that means each family would spend just $2.50 and get 24 pens — more than enough to get their kids through the year (even allowing for all the ones that get lost or borrowed). Working together, you could all stock up for school for a fraction of what you would spend individually.

Check out dollar-store deals and thrift shops

We all love a Target run, but for basics like writing and art supplies, you may be better off shopping at a dollar store like Dollar Tree or a closeout store such as Big Lots. These retailers specialize in rock-bottom prices on everyday items, and you can usually scoop up a basketful of bargains for less than you'd spend on two or three purchases at a traditional store. 

You can save even more at a dollar store by looking for store brands. As Business Insider explains, private labels, such as Dollar General's DG Home line, eliminate the middleman of brand-name products and make it possible to sell these products for even less than the better-known brands. So if your bargain store sells both brand-name and private-label pens, crayons, and glue sticks, you won't find much difference between them except the price.

For back-to-school clothes, don't forget to check out thrift shops. The Deloitte back-to-school survey found that half of the parents surveyed keep the environment in mind when shopping, and buying secondhand outfits is as sustainable as it gets. Late summer and early fall are good times to check out local garage sales. Or organize a swap of gently used clothing with other families in your kids' school. 

Take advantage of post-season bargains

Sometimes, waiting till the last minute can actually be a good thing — especially when you're looking for a bargain. Even if your area's school season starts in August, there's no reason why you can't take full advantage of the Labor Day fashion deals at stores like Old Navy and J. Crew to stock up on fall and winter outfits for your young students. Investopedia adds that late summer is also the time when stores are eager to unload their warm-weather clothing to make room for the cardigans and down coats, so you can pick up deeply discounted T-shirts and shorts that can be worn now and then stored away till spring. NerdWallet's Courtney Jespersen, a consumer savings expert, told NBC News, "In general, the closer shoppers wait until the beginning of the school year, the more discounts they can expect to find."

If you can hang on until the week after school starts for some of your supplies, you could save even more. Krista Fabregas of Fit Small Business told NBC News that after school is in session, the clearance shelves are filled with rock-bottom sales. You may not get the precise style and color you want on some items, but you'll definitely feel the difference in your wallet. Wait even a little longer — late September to October — and you'll find big discounts on tech items like tablets before the newer models start arriving for the holidays.