Back to School: 9 Different Ways to Do it Frugally and Happily

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school supplies
Summer is winding down and the school season has arrived. Whether it’s for new clothes, backpacks or text books, I remember the back to school season as being one where there is a ton of shopping. To boot, no one ever wants to disappoint their children, so this is a time when we can really break our bank without even recognizing it.

If you are stressing about how you can frugally—and happily!—get your kids back to school, read on because I have nine ways to make sure you have a frugal and happy back to school event.

back to school happy1. Check Out Bargains All Year

Stocking up is always a great way to save money and back to school supplies are no different. Throughout the year, school supplies are constantly sold at a discount. If you spend some time to stock up when things are on sale, all you need to do is bring those supplies out during August, your kids will treat them like new. (Just make sure you hide them from your kids when you buy them.)

2. Dollar Store is Your Friend

I used to detest going to the dollar store but after my wife showed me what a wonderful place it is, I’ve grown to love it. I don’t know how they make money but they just sell everything for less. Sometimes, you can even find name brand merchandise at deep discounts.

3. Do Everything Online

Whether it’s Amazon or eBay, online shopping is becoming an easy and frugal way to shop. Not only can you buy many things for less, it also gets delivered to your door. Nowadays, I always go online to check the price of a particular item before I will ever buy it in a store.

4. Technology Should Not Be That Expensive

Computers have become an essential way for kids to finish their homework. In fact, many schools are encouraging parents to buy a separate computer just for their kids. When faced with the decision to pick the right computer, make sure to consult other parents who are faced with the same situation and the teachers who are teaching the courses. It is important to know the computing power your kids need to finish the school year so you don’t overspend or underspend on this important item.

5. Tax Free Days

Just last weekend, Circuit City had a 2 day tax free weekend where you can buy anything and pay no taxes. If you are going to buy something for back to school, remember to take advantage of these days since taxes is a big portion of every purchase.

6. Shop Late

There are always last minute deals in every type of sale and back to school sales are no different. If you can wait on the items you need to buy, you might just be rewarded.

7. Shop Alone

Kids are amazingly talented at wanting more than you can afford. In order to resist the temptation to satisfy them, shop alone. This way, they won’t be tempted by all the advertising in the stores and your shopping experience will be much more relaxed.

8. Shop Around

Generally sound shopping advice tells us to compare prices. There are always places where something is being sold for less so make sure to check all sources.

9. Second Hand is Not Second Class

Go to garage sales and see if you can pickup something for cheap. Often, someone else’s garbage is another person’s treasure so you just might find something very useful for the school year.

Something else you can do is organize a back to school exchange program. The idea is to list out everything you have and see if other parents can take advantage of what you bought previously. If you can work out a deal where you can trade amongst each other, it’s just a win-win situation.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Charles says:

    Thanks for the great financial tips! I also agree that technology doesn’t have to be too expensive. On average, my laptops have been around $250 in the last 15 years. While they’re not great for extreme gaming, they were able to do all of the tasks that I wanted them to do.

  • Jenny C says:

    To avoid going the spendy route this year during schooltime, we shopped at Joe’s, reused past stationery, and did not upgrade any related stuff (like the PC, for instance). The elder kid is anyway moving to college next year so we didn’t want to spend uselessly.

    The kids understand, which makes following these tips easier.

  • Persepone says:

    I’m actually contrarian here… I agree that you “shop all year long” for stuff you can foresee. I always buy winter coats/ski suits and such at the end of the previous year, for example. I also do a lot of “second hand” stuff. Watch for sales on underwear and socks.
    Having said that, for “school clothes–the “visible ones” when my daughter was very young, I teamed up with a couple of other mothers who were also buying their children “school clothes.” At a minimum this determined that my daughter had “the same” clothes as her friends… None of us actually bought “all” (or even “most”) of the school clothes on this trip, but we did buy a few core items–two pairs of pants and three shirts and perhaps a sweater–and the girls tried on their stuff, and then we all went out and had a nice lunch in a real (but reasonable) restaurant. It was a “big deal.” It became an annual event. Now the “girls” chosen were chosen carefully–they were popular, but were also at the top of the class, well behaved, etc. Our shopping trip built enthusiasm and excitement for school, was a time to practice “manners” in the restaurant, etc. and was worth any premium we paid over “disount store” pricing. Obviously, we chose days when there was a “back to school sale” at the stores we did go to. In the end it probably did not cost extra money, but was fun, and made for a very positive school experience.

  • Jerry says:

    These are great tips. My daughter will be getting ready to go to school soon and my wife and I have been dreading the shopping beforehand. With the slowdown in the economy, we all need to find ways to save our pennies. Our saved pennies is our insurance for a rainy day and supposedly we’re going to have a few. Your tips will lead to happy shopping. Thanks.

  • DoctorS @ financeUrLife says:

    The back to school season brings some of the best and most creative pieces I have seen. Great article and thanks. My younger bro is off to school next week and I am going to send him the link.

  • Kate says:

    Great tips. Even though we homeschool, it is always good to get new ideas on saving money on supplies. I definitely agree about the dollar store. You really can find some great deals there. Oh, the $1 section at Target has been really good for school supplies lately too.

  • Briana says:

    Great tips. I never do school clothes shopping before school unless I find some great clearance deals. Thanks for the good information.

  • paulette says:

    Thanks for the piece of advice.

  • Magnesium says:

    what great ideas and pieces of advice. I’ll certainly use them..

  • Scott @ The Passive Dad says:

    Your mention about shopping alone without the kids is so true. I get distracted and end up buying to much or to little based on how they are acting. Also, shopping on an empty stomach can be horrible for my spending behavior. Similar to eating out, I tend to overindulge and bust the budget.

    How do you handle requests for designer items or new fashions? Do you just say no or do your kids have an allowance?

  • marci says:

    My kids were raised on the family dairy farm – and worked hard. At the end of summer, I took each kid separately over the coast range to the “big city”(Portland,OR metro area) and we went shopping, usually at Target or similar. This was during the back to school clothes sales.
    Each kid was given $200 to spend on their school clothes. (10-20 years ago) They were required to buy a pair of sneakers, 2 pairs of pants, and some shirts, and however much more clothes the money would stretch for. (Mom bought the basic six packs of socks and undies and a backpack and winter coat if needed)
    They each quickly learned that one fancy highpriced item was going to use up too much of their money. They learned to buy thriftly and learned to stretch their money. It was a great learning experience for them all.

    It was also a nice way to spend a special day with each child alone – something that didn’t happen much with a family farm to run 🙂

  • CD Interest Rates says:

    Great tips as usual. At the moment we let the kids use the family computer but that does cause problems when I’m working in the evenings. I’m sure we’ll have to break down soon and get another PC.

    We had a pair of overalls that went through all of our boys. They lasted over 10-years and still looked nice. They were fine until our last boy. He is harder on clothes than all of the others.

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