5 Tricks to Making Back-to-School Pain-Free For Your Pocket

by Vincent King · 4 comments

Another August, another load of money dropped at Target.

You know the routine: August arrives along with the sweltering heat, and it’s time to load the kids (and in some cases their class rooms, too), or dorm rooms with supplies. As always, you end up spending far more than you need (or want) to.

Teachers sometimes send home their lists for the next school year before the end of the previous one. Other times, they post their lists online. And if you have college age kids, you’re dreaming of the days when you only needed to buy glue sticks and pencils.

Then there’s also school clothes or uniforms to consider. Multiple all this by a few children and the receipts get longer and never seem to stop.

Shelling Out More Than You Have

Every year, you promise yourself you won’t go overboard, that you’re not going to spend more than you have in the budget. This year, you’re going to buy only what you need to buy and nothing more.

But then you get inside the store and you can’t resist the year’s latest gadgets and accessories for the lockers and dorm rooms. You pass the rows of dollar goodies and are suddenly filled with the nostalgia of the approaching September and back-to-school.

You loved the first of the year as a kid because it meant all new stuff. You’ve gotten a lot taller now, but that doesn’t mean you’ve changed much. You buy and buy, not thinking twice about the the bill, or at least burying the thought at the back of your head. Then, the cashier smiles her best smile as she hands you that $400 receipt. Ouch.

It’s Time to Think Ahead

Those lists the teachers send out each year serve a higher purpose than as another to-do for the teachers to get done. They should serve as your shopping list so that you know exactly what to buy without the guesswork, and the mistakes that come with it.

The online dorm room necessity lists serve the same purpose – a guide to get you from the front of the store to the checkout without straying from the path and spending more than you need to.

One thing those dorm room lists and teacher lists have in common is forethought. The people who put those lists together took the time to figure out exactly what the students would need for a successful year. Taking their lead can save you loads.

Yet, knowing what you need ahead of time is only the first line in your to-do list.

5 Ways to Save on Back to School

In addition to planning, make sure you do each of the following:

1. Check the store ads. Before recycling those ads, do some comparison shopping before hitting the stores for your supplies. Find out who else has the best prices on the things you need, before assuming Walmart’s $0.10 notebooks are a good enough reason to get everything there. If you need more big ticket items, it may be worth paying $0.25 for notebooks so you can save $175 on a new laptop, while getting everything from one store instead of spending money driving all over town to save a few pennies from each place.

2. Check your own supply closet. If you’re like us, you probably have a steady supply of craft and school supplies on hand. Our kids are always playing with scissors, glue and crayons. Many of the items on their lists, we already have. They were simply plucked from the supply closet and dropped in their new (yet on clearance) book bags. Bingo – a few less items to buy.

3. Steer Clear of the name brands. Crayola or CraZArt? Does it really matter? Is Bloomingdales’ bedding necessary for a dorm room, or will Martha Stewart do? While we do adore our kids, buying them top of the line isn’t showing them that we love them. It’s showing them that they need a label to be happy. Avoid this mindset, and instill values while you save money on high quality, lesser known names instead.

4. Stick to your list. Adding those cute little locker chandeliers to your cart may not make much difference, but do that 5 – 10 times and you’ve added a lot of unnecessary spending to your total. Save the more by sticking to your list. If you can ignore the bling as it lights the store and your eyes, then you’re well on your way to not overspending.

5. Scatter your purchases. Finally, don’t buy everything at once. If you have your lists early, start shopping ahead of time to space your spending. This will help will you avoid spending a large sum at once, while also helping you avoid shopping during those times when you’ll be most susceptible to breaking from your list. You know, when everyone is cat-fighting over the last notebook in the store during tax-free days.

What are your favorite back-to-school savings tips?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Shane August 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Good tips. In the past i have known people to double up and purchase in bulk to save money at stores like Costco and Sams


Slackerjo August 15, 2012 at 4:52 am

I think giving older kids a yearly supply budget and more control on what they buy is a good motivator. If they destroy their stuff, they have to dip into their budget. If they max out their budget too early, they have to figure out a way to replace the damaged items. Kids as they get older always crave more responsibility and control and wish to be treated like an adult. I say bring it on cause being an adult can often suck!


Grace Claudia Autumn Rosie Jemima Esmerelda Holly Cecilia Gordon-Lennox September 30, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Well maybe brand names are because the dollar store pencils lead are easily breakable and that the dollar store glue dries too easily and is not as sticky. The dollar store crayon do not color as well as the Crayola ones.

Teachers then have to spend hundreds if not thousands supplementing kids because all the parents did not spend the extra dollar or two. If you cannot genuinely afford it, it’s your fault and if you are doing it to save a quick buck or two then the teacher may have to supplement your child or you may keep having to buy more and more supplies. Also buying name-brands do not instil this “It’s showing them that they need a label to be happy”, it is just telling your child for the future that quality is always better than price. It is telling your child it is better to buy the $4 crayons compared to the $2 dollar ones that you may replace a couple of types of year.
Name-branding is also the same with laptops, scratch that it goes with clothes, food, hygiene and many more areas. Don’t scrimp on quality for price.

If anything you are teaching your children that cheaper is also better, which is also not necessarily true but do not teach your children that the more expensive the better. Sometimes the mid-range middle ground products are good quality and actually are a good price for the quality. Sometimes the most expensive thing is the same as the cheapest. Teaching your child these lessons will be good parenting. What is not good parenting is convincing that since it is cheaper it is better. Because dollar store specific stationery products compared to their branded products do not measure.


Grace Claudia Autumn Rosie Jemima Esmerelda Holly Cecilia Gordon-Lennox September 30, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Also bear in mind, that many teachers do have families and children and they do not list the brand names to make you shell out more money, many teachers have actually had children using both and have used their responsible judgement. And that teachers supplementing students because their parents did not (mention I did not include could not, if you cannot buy it it is not your fault but if you can it is your fault!), could affect what they buy for their own family or worse what they buy for themself.


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