Can you believe it is almost that time already? I think I’m in denial. I do not want to go back-to-school shopping. Doesn’t that officially mark the end of summer?
When the stores began stocking back-to-school supplies, I swore on all that was holy that I would NOT purchase one marker, backpack, or pencil case until mid-August! Sadly I only hung on until July 29th (insert eye-roll here).
I caved under the pressure of Target’s amazing merchandising and beautifully accessorized backpack/lunch kit/key chains and what have you…but on our way to the mothership Target, my daughter informed me that the specific binder she “needed” was at Walmart.
With us still working on a pretty tight budget until we finish baby step two my wallet was happy to oblige, and off we went.
Now if you’re a Mom, you know how much we dread back-to-school shopping. We start off with a list and come home with enough crap to start our own office supply store. The kids go crazy and start throwing everything into the cart, and eventually, you agree just to make the begging and whining stop.
I wanted this year to be different. I wanted to make my kids happy and buy them fun supplies to [hopefully] get them excited for school, so we felt good about sending them off and finally having a few minutes to watch reality TV and clean the house again.
I wanted to share a few simple tips that worked for us this year. We had no fighting, no crying, and I didn’t hear “that’s not fair” even once…. #winning.
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Save a Ton of Money Back-to-School Shopping
Here are my six tips to keep your sanity and ensure you and your kids still like one another after you finish school shopping. And here is a bonus: when going back-to-school shopping, if at all possible, head to the stores as early as possible Monday through Thursday. They will be less busy and guarantee you don’t have to fight 8 other moms for the last glue stick.
Buy in Bulk
Now, this would normally be a no-brainer, but since being strict with our budgeting this year, I’ve paid much more attention to prices and noticed that some things sold in multiples are actually more expensive than their single counterparts. What the heck is that about!??!
Ex: a few months ago, my kids wanted refills for their favorite lead pencils (ya know…because it snaps off and breaks every single time they write), and I saw a 3-pack at Walmart.
Instinctively I grabbed it (assuming it was cheaper per piece) but noticed it seemed pricey compared to the single pack. I whipped out my trusty iPhone calculator and discovered the 3-pack actually cost more per pack than to buy them individually.
The bulk-ish items I saw in the back-to-school section seemed to be the better buy! So, IF the bulk price is cheaper per piece, than you’ll save some money.
Reuse Backpacks and Lunch Boxes from Last Year
I know, I know. This sounds cheap…but would you believe this was actually my kids’ idea? I was floored! I guess I had always purchased and a new backpack and lunchbox each year because I felt that was what I was supposed to do… but when my daughter told me that her backpack was in perfect shape and she still loved the look of it, I couldn’t believe it.
I took a look at it, and it really was in near-perfect shape and has the cutest design that really reflected her personality.
If your child’s backpack is still in great shape, don’t be afraid to have them reuse it another year. Especially if it still reflects their style and interests.
Take these few steps to spruce it up, and it’ll be like new again:
- Make sure the backpack is empty, and use a vacuum attachment to clean out any crumbs, dust, etc. Check to see if it has a care label, which will advise you how your particular backpack should be cared for.
- Treat any stains using a gentle stain-remover. I wouldn’t use chemicals unless you first test them on a small inconspicuous area of the pack. I recommend this incredible (and super cheap) old-school stain remover. I discovered this a few months ago and have used it exclusively. Plus, it lasts forever! Don’t buy this on Amazon! Go to Walmart, and it will cost you under $1.00!!
- Put the backpack in a mesh laundry bag to protect it and put it in the washer. Use cold water and a short cycle. If the bag has a lot of detail (beading, glitter, embroidery), you should opt to hand-wash instead. You can also use this method for the fabric lunch containers as well.
- Do NOT put it in the dryer. Hang somewhere with all compartments wide open and allow to air dry.
- Using a pair of small detail scissors, trim any loose threads that are appearing. This will ensure they don’t pull and create a hole.
Compare Prices in Different Sections of the Same Store
I’m not sure if this was the case at the particular Walmart, I was in this week when school shopping, but what I can tell you is that I have seen Target price the exact same item differently in promo sections vs. the item’s typical department placement.
I noticed that the small bottles seemed expensive, and out of curiosity checked two aisles over where the glue lived, and wouldn’t you know, they were cheaper. The same exact size bottles were marked up on the endcap?! It wasn’t a huge amount difference, but it was noticeable enough to make me double-check promo items just to see if I was being scammed.
Had I had more time when we did our shopping, I would have checked out a few items and compared them just to be sure.
Dress Up Plain Items
We ended up not getting the giant Rolls Royce of binders because it didn’t appear to be necessary this year; however, I was able to talk my daughter (quite easily, mind you) away from the fancier, higher-priced binders with designs on them by telling her if she gets the plain colored ones I would let her pick out a pack of adhesive patches to decorate them.
We ended up finding these adorable ones on Amazon, so we ordered those, and she was happy to have a one-of-a-kind binder that really expressed her personality.
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Only Purchase What You Need
Some of you supermoms may be against bribery. I, however, proudly display this skill as a badge of honor.
I’m totally cool with it…within reason. In our house, we really try to teach our children, “you are responsible for your own actions.” I think bribery really reinforces this.
I lay down the ground rules right off the bat so everyone knows what to expect. I was a little worried that my son was going to be grumpy and bummed about not getting to pick out any school supplies.
I promised him if he behaved and didn’t complain about it “not being fair,” then he would get to pick out a small (under $5) item at the end of the trip.
He ended up picking out a pack of his favorite pencils and was really excited. I was happy because I still made out by not having to purchase him a whole list as well.
Check the Sales
Later he also mentioned wanting to use his backpack from last year as well, and he got a new lunchbox also since his from last year completely fell apart.
I know this one is pretty obvious, but of course, depending on where you shop, you can save a substantial amount of money just off the sticker price.
Personally, I think Walmart is the cheapest, then Target. Places like Staples will rob you normally, but they have some great back-to-school deals.
I love a good bargain, but I value my time too much to go flipping through all the flyers. I am a big Cartwheel fan, for sure, and I’ve saved some decent money at Kohl’s for clothes/backpacks/shoes before too! If you have their credit card, try and stack their coupons and discounts as well.
Lastly, many places will price match. I don’t bother with this method, but if you’re willing to put in the work, it can really pay off sometimes.
Do not forget to earn cashback on your back-to-school purchases. Using apps like Rakuten (formerly, Ebates), Ibotta, and Fetch will help you earn cashback on the school supplies that you will be purchasing anyway. Why miss out on these extra points, cash, and gift cards you could earn?
Anytime I order anything online, I always use my Rakuten Chrome extension to search for the store where I want to shop and shop as normal, and you will earn cashback at over 1500 stores! They will mail you a check each quarter with all your earnings!
Wishing you an easy, painless, and uneventful back-to-school shopping this year. I hope you find some of these tips helpful when navigating this bittersweet day.
It’s sad when summer comes to an end, and you realize your children (and you) are another year older, and you have a tear in your eye putting them on the bus that first day…and then you realize you can breathe again! Right after you pack those dang lunches.
Kristin Stones is the owner of Cents + Purpose, an online community dedicated to sharing practical personal finance content. Her mission is to equip women with the necessary tools and knowledge to take back control of their money and live a more purposeful life. She creates actionable content to help her audience achieve financial wellness using her simple approach to managing money - all learned through her personal experience of paying off almost $55,000 of debt in under two years.