Back to School Shopping: 10 Ways to Save Your Money and Your Sanity

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by Robin

If you have kids, you know that school is starting up again (Yay!? Boo!?).

If you have left your home in the last month, you know the stores are screaming about “Back-to-School”! According to Deloitte's 2017 Back to School Survey, the average American household will spend over $500 on BTS items.  Do you really have to spend that much? We don’t think so and today we’re sharing our best frugal tips to Back to School time.

First off...

Don’t believe the hype!

If you believe the ads, all kids everywhere are getting all-new everything for the first day of school. Watching commercials, you could infer that if you don’t spring for all new duds, your child will be left out from day one.  Advertisers know a thing or two about preying on our biggest fears, don't they?

Don’t believe the hype! Sure there are parents that go nuts and buy every single thing new – but if the families we surveyed are any indicator – they are in the minority. If things still fit, most families are sticking with them.

We've got more tips for saving your money, time and sanity this year...

1. Check the real list.

I always chuckle when I see the stores providing a convenient checklist of what you “need” for back to school. Having a store write your shopping list is what we like to call “a conflict of interest”.

Don’t follow those lists! They have tons of stuff on there that no one really needs.

Be sure to visit your school’s website for what you actually need, not the junk the store wants you to buy. Save yourself some headaches and some cash by just buying what you actually need.

Have you read our post about how the malls trick you into spending more money?   Might be worth a look-see before you hit the mall!

2. Inventory first.

Now that you’ve got the real – and much shorter – list, strike a few more things off it by shopping your house first. You’ve probably got lots of what you need at home already:

  • Wash that old backpack. Sew a few cool badges on it if it needs freshening up.
  • Sharpen those old pencil crayons. 
  • Try on the clothes they’ve already got. 
You’ve got more than you think already.  Tada! Your list just got even shorter.

3. Consider going alone.

If the pressure from the stores isn’t enough, the kids apply more, don’t they? Begging for stuff they will die without!

With all that shiny new stuff in the store, it can be tough for kids to not whine and beg – the scene is purposely set for this. Maybe it’s even worth it to pay a babysitter and do the bulk of the shopping sans children?  Take your list of needs and your children's sizes and hit the stores alone, if you can.

Peace and quiet could mean big savings.

4. Postpone your shopping to save.

You don’t need everything the first day. Lots of supplies will be on clearance in the weeks after the back-to-school madness is over. Just buy the minimum now and the rest later when the discounts are deep.

5. Use the flyers.

We’ve talked about flyers before in our grocery savings series: flyers are your friend. And the Flipp app - which we've raved about here before - makes it so much simpler and effective!

Every store wants you to come in and leave your cash behind. They are willing to lose money on an item or two, in hopes that you will also buy everything else there. Be strategic, find those loss leaders and just buy them at that store. Visit a few stores and save big bucks this way.

6. Don’t forget thrift and consignment stores.

If you’ve read our piece on consignment shopping savings, you already know there are big deals there. This is our family's primary way of covering our birthday suits.

You may be surprised at the new (with tags!) and new looking clothes you can find there. Same thing for thrift stores. It takes a bit more time, but the deals are well worth the effort. After a week of school everyone’s new stuff looks old anyways so no one will be able to tell.

7. Look for coupons.

Before you head to the store, check the retailer websites for additional coupons – print them and save. “Like” them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, stores often reward their followers with special coupons or advance notice of sales.

8. Shop online.

You can’t beat the convenience, and it can be hard to beat the prices. Consider doing your shopping online.

Our absolute, hands-down favourite place to start our online shopping is Ebates - here you get a percentage back of all that you buy - cash back!  Plus they've collected the coupon codes and deals for every store.  If you haven't checked it out - you should:  here's the link.

Check out the “Sale” section of your kid’s favourite retailer, you can find a much bigger clearance selection there than on the racks in the store.

Don’t forget to search for coupon codes for further discounts or free shipping. Getting deals in your pyjamas – does it get better?

9. Consider quality.

Sure you can find a $15 backpack at most department stores, but how long until that zipper is broken or there’s a ripped seam? About Christmas?

Consider buying a very good quality backpack that would last for years. We love the backpacks from LL Bean - and have scored some great ones from their clearance - they still look great after 5+ years! Sure you might fork over $50 or $60, but that bag’s going to last for years, instead of months. Many come with warranties, so if something breaks, they’ll give you a new one.

10. Get creative.

Boring plain office supplies are cheaper than flashy ones targeted to kids. Think about creative ways for kids to personalize their own school supplies. One easy way is to get your kids to choose photos or artwork they’ve made over the summer. Slip it into the plastic cover of a plain binder and they have a unique, very cool and inexpensive school necessity.

For more of our tested Saving Money tips - check out these posts!


  1. Wonderful blog, I just noted down some important tips to save money.

  2. Save money by doing a large grocery haul every Sunday. Plan out all the lunches for the week. Look for sales on things that your kids love and mix it up.


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