Deloitte estimates the 29 million households with children in the U.S. could spend as much as $27.6 billion on school supplies this year. That averages out to $510 per household.
While you may need to spend that much — or more — to buy special supplies or stock up for multiple kids, it’s possible to whittle your back-to-school budget down with a few tricks. Consider these strategies before you hit the store this year.
1. Decide what you can reuse
The best way to save money is to avoid spending in the first place. Consider whether your child really needs a new backpack or lunchbox, or any other school supply that could have a longer shelf life.
If you can use expensive items longer and avoid replacing them every year, you will save money, even if your kids want new stuff.
2. Check sales before you shop
Check sales flyers before you shop for supplies. Some stores may have loss leaders that line up with your shopping list. If you don’t have a physical newspaper to check for ads, you can check online.
3. Check prices at drugstores, grocery stores & office supply stores
Stores you wouldn’t think of often sell supplies at bargain rates. Drugs stores often have deals on basic school supplies, as do office supply stores.
Also check your grocery store’s office supply aisle the next time you’re buying food. You might find basics like crayons and folders for less than you’ll pay elsewhere.
4. Don’t forget dollar stores
You can also pop into a dollar store. When “everything is a dollar,” it’s easy to save on larger back-to-school items like binders, wet wipes and educational games. You can also find tape, pens, notebooks and dry erase markers for cheap.
5. Look for freebies online
If you’re angling for educational games or resources to use at home, also check the world wide web for freebies. The best back-to-school freebies for families and teachers include things like printable resources, educational apps, coloring pages and lesson plans.
6. Wait until after school starts to stock up
Once school is in session, retailers mark school supplies at clearance prices to free up room for new seasonal inventory. For that reason, waiting until mid- to late September to stock up on non-essential supplies is a stellar idea.
7. Buy larger quantities you can split between kids
If you have more than one child with a similar list of supplies, you can save money by buying larger quantities of certain supplies and divvying them up. For example, a three-pack of Elmer’s Glue Sticks at Walmart.com is $3.82, but a 30-pack is only $9.88. You can find similar bulk deals for other supplies such as markers, pens and pencils.
8. Price match when you can
Stores like Walmart and Target “price match” deals from competitors. If you only shop at one store, you can score the lowest prices on your supplies by bringing competitors’ ads along on your trip.
9. Download a money-saving app
Apps can help you save even more. Ibotta, for example, offers cash back on specific products at a wide range of stores. To qualify, shop at participating stores, then take a picture of your receipt through the app.
If you don’t like the idea of snapping a photo of your receipt, you can also link a loyalty card to your account with select stores and earn cash back that way. In addition, you can shop online and earn cash back at participating stores when you make a purchase through the app.
Another app to consider is the Dosh app. This app lets you earn cash back by linking your credit and debit cards to your account and using them to shop. Participating stores include many that sell school supplies including Walmart and Target.
10. Shop used
You can buy many back-to-school items used, including essentials like backpacks and sports equipment and also items like clothing and tennis shoes.
There are all kinds of places to purchase used items online, including Craigslist and Facebook. Poshmark and ThredUp also offer a large selection of used clothing that’s in like-new condition. Your kids may not know the difference, but your wallet will.
Plan to do your school shopping online? Learn what you should and shouldn't buy from Amazon.