The dreaded rush to get the kids prepped for back-to-school time is upon us. New clothes, new backpacks, new pencils – new, new, new. It all costs money and you might end up in an argument or two before the end of it.

Serious question – is wine an acceptable addition to a back-to-school list (for me, I mean)?

Fortunately, with a little preparation and planning, you can get everything your kids need, some of the things they want, and still have cash left in your wallet. And maybe a little sanity left in your mind!

How to Save on School Supplies

save money back to school


Start by planning

At this point you should have a list of things your kids need from their school. It may be tempting to just run to Target or wherever and pick it all up and be done. This is the worst thing you can do. A tiny bit of planning, forethought, and restraint can save you a tremendous amount of money.

Scour your house first

Your kids have random school supplies all over your house; it’s their nature. You very rarely will need to buy crayons, pens, pencils, markers, or cases year-to-year unless your child is an avid artist. This alone could save you $10 or more.

Create a detailed list

Once you know what you need, make a list and stick to it. The smartest way to go about this is to schedule an in-store pick-up. This will help you avoid impulse buys, especially at places like Target where they layout is designed to make you impulse-buy. Go in with blinders on, buy only what you need and get out. Not today, Satan!

You can also shop online

Shopping online is a fantastic way to avoid impulse purchases. No silly little things to buy near the register if there are no registers!

Involve your kids

Kids love new stuff; honestly, we all do. It’s not reasonable that you can buy every new and designer thing they want, but if you talk to them about what they want the most you can come to a reasonable agreement that leaves you both happy.

Plan around “tax holidays”

Now, my state doesn’t do this, but many do. To ease the burden on families, many states have what are known as “sales tax holidays” and they’re exactly how they sound. These designated days allow you to buy kid-centric items without sales tax.

Garage sales are your friend

Starting as soon as the weather gets nice, start hitting up garage sales to get gently used clothes at a bargain price. Kids grow up quickly and nobody wants totes of old clothes lying around. You can typically even find designer kids’ clothes at insanely low prices just because nobody wants them once they’ve been outgrown.

Click for Our Top Tips on Saving Money with Kids Clothes!

Don’t get caught up in the small things

Cutting coupons and running across town because markers are .25c cheaper at Walmart than Target is not worth it, especially with gas being expensive. Instead, plan on comparison shopping for your bigger ticket items; laptops, shoes, backpacks, uniforms, etc.

Shop smart

So now that you have your plan of attack established, you can save money in a ton of different ways. There are sites that give you money back, some that save you money, and a few others in-between.

Buy discounted gift cards

We all get gift cards we don’t want sometimes. Did you know there are places online where you can sell those cards at a discount for cash you can use anywhere? It’s true, and these places naturally allow you to buy discounted cards as well. Check out to learn more!

All of these sites function the same way, allowing you to pick up gift cards below their market value, which basically means free cash for you just for shopping at a specific place.

Buy online through Rakuten

We use Rakuten (what used to be Ebates) for virtually everything we buy online and we’ve covered that a few times in other articles. The premise is that they offer you discount codes and cash back when you buy from major online retailers through the Rakuten link. You can save quite a bit of money this way and then you get some cash back, too. Sign up through our link and you’ll get $10 in your Rakuten account after your first $25 transaction through a Rakuten link! We bought our most recent laptop through a Rakuten Dell link and earned about $80 back, in addition to the discount code provided. It’s a huge deal, so take advantage of it!

Join Rakuten and Start Saving Today!

Shop with kid-centric sites

 ThredUp and Schoola offer massive discounts on gently worn kids clothes and other items.

ThredUp is an online cosignment and thrift shop, with clothes for kids and moms at steep discounts. Our referral link will get your $10 off your first purchase, so check that out.

Along the same lines as thredUP, Schoola is a site that offers clothing at a discounted rate. The greatest part of Schoola however is the fact that 40% of their sales go to a local school of your choice. (April 2021 Note: Schoola is currently down due to the pandemic).

Don’t shy away from dollar stores

Especially when your kids are younger, they’re not going to care if their Spiderman lunchbox came from Target or if it came from Dollar Tree. Use this to your advantage as long as you can, but also remember that you can get basic school supplies that are good quality from these places all the time.

Dollar Tree

Basic is best

When I was a kid, Lisa Frank stuff was what everyone wanted. The markup on those folders (through my adult eyes) is absurd when just a few folders in my favorite colors would have been fine. Get your kids in the habit of expressing themselves not through what they buy but just being themselves. A life lesson and savings all rolled into one! If your kid is a doodler, some basic notebooks and folders will be covered in their own artistic expression in no time, and it will have more personality than an expensive notebook ever could.

Plan for next year now

If you’ve got kids in school, you have an idea what they’ll need for next year. They might need some specific things going from one grade to another, but the notebooks, pencils, and art supplies remain the same. Here are some tips to help you for the next back-to-school season.

Take advantage of the post-season

Walgreens is one of my favorite places to shop, especially after a seasonal sale has ended (looking at you, Halloween candy). The same is true for back-to-school sales, where in the weeks after you’ll find stores scrambling to get rid of merchandise. This means savings up to 70% or more on things you will absolutely need again. You can always use spiral-bound notebooks, pencils, pens, folders, crayons, markers – the list is endless. The same 3-subject notebooks that are $2.99 at the start of BTS season are .45 cents after. They’re not going to spoil or go bad, so why not buy them now and keep them in a designated spot until next year?

Have a designated homework spot

Create a quiet, organized place for your kids to do homework, study, read and write. This not only builds consistently good study habits, but it also helps you keep track of all your school supplies. Make sure that all your notebooks, books, and writing instruments go back to this spot and you won’t need to scramble around your house for next year’s BTS rush.

Set up swaps

If you go to a school with a uniform – an increasingly popular prospect – see if you can swap your gently used uniforms with those of other families. Your 6th grader might have outgrown their clothes but the family down the street could have an 8th grader who doesn’t need their uniform anymore, and their 5th grader needs new outfits. Nobody likes having to buy new uniforms, so see what you can set up with your friends and neighbors.

Like with most things, planning is key to ensure that you don’t waste time or money. While back-to-school shopping with your kids can be a great bonding experience, be careful you don’t end up getting coerced into buying hundreds of dollars more than you intended. Plan ahead, set boundaries, opt for simplicity, shop online when you can, and go through websites that reward you for spending smartly. You’ll earn your degree in savings in no time flat!

What are some of your favorite back-to-school season savings tips?

Let us know in the comments!

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Thrifty Guardian was founded as a way to help parents lead richer lives through money saving tips, side hustle ideas, and parenting advice (including fun DIYs and recipes!)