6 Smart Shopping Strategies to Reduce Back to School Spending

Aisle of school supplies in store

If your family is like most, you need to find every way possible to stretch your dollars. Even when you make smart buying decisions and eliminate all the unnecessary spending you can think of, you still might find yourself short of funds by month's end.

It's Crunch Time Again

There are times during the year when a lack of money hits you especially hard—times like birthdays, vacations and holidays. According to Consumer Reports, the busiest time of the year for retailers (and the most financially challenging for families) is Christmas—but coming in a close second is the end of the summer when you need to buy your kids new school clothing and supplies.

School Supplies Can Be Expensive—But There Are Smart Ways to Save

According to the National Retail Federation, on average American families will spend $696.70 on back to school clothing and supplies this year. For many families, that kind of spending can break the bank, but there are some smart spending strategies that can help, including the following 6:

  1. Buy some items after the start of school: you don't need to buy everything before the start of school in the fall. Talk to your children's teachers to find out which items they'll need immediately, and which can wait a few weeks. The reason? As Courtney Jespersen, a consumer savings expert with NerdWallet, points out, "Retailers become more motivated to move that inventory once it's been out for a while." By putting off spending on non-essential items until your children actually need them, you'll save money.
  2. Take a tax holiday: 45 states collect sales taxes—16 of those states sponsor sales tax holidays for one weekend during the summer. Find out if your state is one of the 16. If it is, plan on doing your back to school shopping during that weekend to get needed items less expensively.
  3. Make a shopping list: remember the adage that you shouldn't go grocery shopping when you're hungry? Well, you shouldn't shop for back to school supplies without first creating a shopping list. With your list in hand, you'll have a better idea of how much you can spend on each item, and you'll avoid impulse buying.
  4. Make retailers compete for your business: to make sure you're getting the best price on each item on your list, use a price comparison app. Some of the best are Shopsavvy and Honey. Many retailers (including Target, Best Buy and Walmart) have a policy of matching their competitors' prices. To save more money, force your favorite retailers to compete for your business.
  5. Shop where the prices are low: Retailers like Walmart and Target tend to charge less for some school supplies than Office Depot or Staples (according to an analysis by DealNews). Specifically, Target charged the least for supplies and Walmart had the best prices for clothing. To get the best prices on supplies and clothing, you should also do some comparison pricing at dollar and wholesale stores (like Sam's Club and Costco).
  6. Consider buying second-hand electronics: if you shop with reputable retailers, used computers and mobile phones are just as good—and a lot less expensive—than new ones. Certified used models are especially strong at respected retailers like Amazon and Walmart. You also shouldn't rule out buying electronics supplies directly from manufacturers, many of whom offer refurbished items in "like new" condition and with a warranty.


Saving money on back to school clothing and supplies will probably take you a little more time, but considering the cost savings you could realize, it's well worth the effort. Before you start shopping, have a clear plan, do some comparison pricing and buy only what you need when you need it.