Saving and Budgeting for Back-To-School Shopping

Back-to-school shopping is an exciting time for kids, but it can be a financial headache for parents on a budget. Setting aside money in a back-to-school savings account over the summer could help. Still, it doesn’t always cover every item on your child’s back-to-school shopping list.

No matter what items your kids need for school, our back-to-school budget tips can help you cut costs at checkout and stretch your family’s budget.

How budgeting for back-to-school shopping works

So, how much is back-to-school shopping? According to the National Retail Federation, families spent about $850 on back-to-school shopping in 2021. Unfortunately, that figure is only expected to rise this year due to inflation.

Creating a back-to-school budget can help keep your finances in check as you shop for the best deals. A budget is a financial plan you set for a defined timeframe. In this case, that timeframe would be the summer before school starts. Your budget should reflect an estimate of each child’s back-to-school costs based on the price points your family can afford.

For example, a pair of kids’ jeans can cost anywhere between $10 and $40, depending on where you shop. If you’re planning to buy three pairs of jeans, you might estimate that budget at $30 total, not $120 for the more expensive jeans. Then, when it’s time to shop, you know exactly how much you can afford for all three pairs and can shop sales and clearance racks to stay under budget.

Work through your child’s back-to-school shopping list and research average costs online from stores you’re likely to shop at to create an accurate budget. That way, whether you end up back-to-school shopping online or in the store, you’ll have a better idea of how much you should pay for each item.

What is a good budget for back-to-school shopping?

Your budget for back-to-school shopping will depend on several factors, including how many children you have, the stores you shop at, and which school supplies each child needs. You’ll also need to consider your income and savings to adjust your shopping accordingly.

For example, if you’re on a tight budget, you might shop for basic supplies like pencils, notebooks, glue sticks, and crayons at dollar stores instead of big-box stores. That way, you can free up more money in your budget for higher-priced items like clothing and electronics.

How to create a budget for back-to-school shopping

Creating a back-to-school budget doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply follow these back-to-school budget tips:

1. Make a list of school supplies you need

Your child’s teacher should provide a list of school supplies before the new academic year starts. If not, reach out to the school and request a specific supply list.

Compare the supplies on this list to the ones you already have. In some cases, you can reuse last year’s items, such as pencil boxes, lunch boxes, backpacks, and binders.

Once you’ve narrowed down your supply list, it’s time to take inventory of each child’s clothing and accessories. Focus on the clothes and shoes each child needs right away. You can always shop for coats, boots, and cold-weather accessories later in the year.

2. Create a spending limit

Next, it’s time to do some calculations.

Add up the prices you expect to pay for each item on your back-to-school list to get a general idea of how much you’ll have to spend. You can find the average price point of each item by searching for the item online and seeing how much your preferred store sells it for. This is also the chance to discover other stores that may offer the product at a lower price.

Once you have a realistic idea of how much each child’s list will cost, you can set your overall spending limit.

3. Choose a budgeting method

Choose a budgeting method — and stick with it. The earlier you start budgeting for back-to-school shopping, the better. That’s because the longer you participate in any budgeting method, the more money you’ll save.

For example, you might implement a no-spend challenge where you avoid unnecessary purchases for 30 days. If a challenge doesn’t sound appealing, simply plan to set aside a certain amount of money from each paycheck leading up to the new school year.

4. Find ways to save money on back-to-school shopping

You can always cut costs by shopping sales and clearance racks, even if you figure out how much to spend on back-to-school clothes and supplies. Every bit of back-to-school savings adds up, giving you more flexibility in your budget for other items.

5. Stick to your budget

Make sure you stick to your back-to-school budget. Don’t spend the amount you’ve budgeted for school supplies on unrelated expenses — and don’t spend more than your budget allows.

Tips to save money on back-to-school shopping

So, how do you stay under budget once you start shopping? Well, we’ve got a few back-to-school saving tips that can help:

Compare prices

The internet makes it easy to compare prices on back-to-school items without physically shopping around. For example, if your child likes a particular backpack from one store, search its description or franchise to see which stores carry similar bags.

Buy generic brands

Generic items tend to be more affordable than big-name brands. So, unless your child’s school supply list specifies a particular brand, it’s almost always better to shop the store brands.

Use coupons

If you can’t shop for school supplies during a sales event, use a coupon. Many coupons are available digitally via store apps, so you don’t even need to print them. If you’re shopping online, search for coupon codes before checking out.

Shop during the sales tax holiday

Many states have a sales tax holiday to help maximize your back-to-school savings. Sales tax holidays typically fall on three-day weekends and tend to include school supplies, clothing, electronics, books, and shoes.

If your state doesn’t participate in a sales tax holiday, see if a neighboring state does. It might be worth a quick road trip.

Get some back-to-school items in bulk

Buying certain back-to-school items in bulk can help you save money in the long run, especially if you’re expected to purchase supplies for the whole classroom. For example, pencils, crayons, stickers, tissues, sanitizing wipes, manual pencil sharpeners, and other small items usually cost less in bulk. And you won’t have to purchase them again for the rest of the school year!

Buy secondhand

Thrift stores and garage sales often have gently used kids’ clothing, shoes, backpacks, and school supplies for a fraction of what they cost new. Try hitting these shops early in the summer to see which back-to-school items you can score secondhand.

You might even ask friends or family members with school-aged children if they have anything they’d consider selling, donating, or trading.

What to do if you need money for back-to-school shopping

Let’s say you’ve made a budget, compared prices, stuck to the clearance racks, and you’re still short of money for back-to-school shopping. What then?

Fortunately, Advance America offers a variety of loan options that can put cash in your hands fast. A payday loan, for instance, is a short-term loan designed to help you make it to your next paycheck. Use the funds now to cover your school supplies and then pay off the loan on payday.

Consider an installment loan if you need more cash than a payday loan offers. An installment loan allows you to take out a higher loan amount over a longer term, so you can pay it back over time instead of all at once.

Shopping for back-to-school supplies shouldn’t set your family back financially. Instead, with a bit of planning, comparison shopping, budgeting, and strategic borrowing, you can send your kids back to school with everything they need to succeed.

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