How to Go Back to School on a Budget

How to Go Back to School on a Budget

Even if your children go to public school, there are certain expenses that come with the territory when September rolls around. All children need the basic back-to-school supplies: pencils, erasers, notebooks, backpacks, lunch boxes, and so on. Then there are also new clothes for those young ones who have grown over the summer or worn out their wardrobe. And if your child goes to a private school, new uniforms may also be on your list of things to buy. Is there any way to minimize potentially overwhelming expenses? Here are some ideas for how to go back to school on a budget.

Get Your Children Involved

Getting your children involved in their own lives is important for their development. Being a part of back-to-school shopping gives your little ones the chance to practice making decisions and being independent. Not that you shouldn't be there as a guide to balance some of that youthful impulsivity, but it gives your children some freedom and control over what happens to them. Plus, letting your children make choices ensures that your child truly likes the things you are buying. There is nothing worse than an outfit, notebook, messenger bag, or some other item going to waste in a closet somewhere.

Make a List, Estimate Costs, and Set Your Budget

Yes, these are three things. However, they often need to be done together in order for a back-to-school shopping strategy to be successful. Making a list shows you what you need and what your priorities are. It lets you know what is important and what can be put off until next month or the month after. Estimating costs gives you a good idea of your list's impact on your finances. Without this step, it's hard to know what your list is getting you into. Going over your finances, seeing what you have available, and setting your back-to-school budget gives you an idea of what you can do. Taking that budget and comparing it with your cost estimate can then inform your list's priorities. Now for the savings part!

Find the Sales

Many stores have back-to-school sales and deals. Discounts on multiple items or bundles might be the things to look for. If you have a large family, buying in bulk might be right up your alley. If you don't, consider partnering with another family to get the special prices without getting more than you need. If you are able, you may even want to donate your extras to those in need. It's a great way to show your kids how to give back, plus potentially getting you a bit of a tax break.


Coupons have been around forever, so don't forget about them! Little savings here and there can add up and have a big impact on your overall bottom line. You can find coupons in magazines or search for online coupons for the stores near you and see what sorts of savings they offer.


These are the store sign-ups that give you discounts on your purchases. If you don't have an account with the stores near you, now might be a good time to start one and take advantage of all the new member benefits. You can always cancel your account later if it isn't something you want to do long-term, but it could save you some money as you buy your children's school supplies and school outfits.

Research Alternatives

Comparing prices online may take a little bit of time, but it isn't difficult. Going from store to store and seeing where the best savings are hiding can be a fun exercise in itself. Keep in mind, though, that you don't have to do back-to-school shopping the traditional way. Consider some of the alternatives listed below.

Clothing Swaps

If clothes shopping is not in your budget this year, set up a clothes swap with your neighbors or fellow parents from your children's school. Bigger kids have grown out of their old clothes and may be able to help out with some "new" kids' clothes (/shop/kids/S-yuh-xec) and "new" kids' shoes for your little ones. For older children, having the adults throw in some of their old clothes might be similarly helpful. From there, mending and altering if needed or even taking certain pieces to a local tailor can get you a decent wardrobe for a fraction of the price.

Secondhand Uniforms and Supplies

If your child attends a private school and certain clothes are required, there are often places that sell secondhand uniforms. School uniforms don't change often, so you should be able to find the next size up, either through a connection at the school your child is attending or perhaps a discount store that handles secondhand products. You can usually find extra uniforms and maybe even other school supplies.

Whatever your budget, whatever your school needs, there are usually more options than you think. Be creative and find ways around the obstacles in front of you so you and your children can have a great September and a lovely first semester.


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