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Back-to-School on a Budget + Printables

The long summer days are coming to an end soon, which means that back-to-school season is almost upon us. While back-to-school shopping might be a source of excitement for the little ones who are looking forward to the year ahead, the cost of these shopping trips can cause stress for the parents. According to a report from Deloitte, parents will spend an average of more than $500 per child on new apparel, supplies, and gadgets during the back-to-school season. If you’re a household with multiple children, that number can be quite staggering. 

Whether your kids are heading into kindergarten or a college classroom, there are lots of ways you can get everything you need for back-to-school without breaking the bank.

Back to School Budgeting Tips

Take an Inventory of What You Already Have

One of the easiest ways to save on school supplies is to take a look at what you already have. Your kids likely have supplies leftover from the previous school year, so empty out their backpacks, desk drawers, and miscellaneous storage bins to see what you have on hand. This way you can determine what they really need to purchase new, and what they can reuse. Items such as backpacks, pencil cases, and lunch boxes often don’t need to be replaced annually. 

This is also an opportune time to clear out closets and dresser drawers and donate clothing that your children have grown out of. Many nonprofits such as Goodwill will provide you with a receipt for your donation, which you can use to claim a tax deduction at the end of the year. Once you’ve cleared out closet space, you’ll have a better idea of what apparel your children actually need to purchase new. 

Make a List of Necessary Items

After taking an inventory of the supplies you already have, create a list for yourself of the items that are “must-haves” and not just “nice-to-haves.” Bringing a shopping list with you can prevent you from making impulse purchases as well. Studies show that people who go shopping without a list end up spending as much as 23 percent more than people who create a shopping list. 

Set a Budget and Stick To It

Once you’ve put together a list of school supplies that are needs and not just wants, set a realistic budget for yourself. Mint can help you set and stick to your budget, while also giving you a holistic view of your spending. If you’re doing back-to-school shopping for younger kids, this can be a great way to teach them about how to budget for something. You can shop together and let them make decisions about what they want to buy that’s within the specified budget. 

Don’t Buy Everything at Once

It can be tempting to get all of your shopping done in one trip, but this could actually cause you to spend more than necessary. For your big shopping trip, buy the necessary items like pencils and notebooks, but it may be worth holding off on other purchases like binders and art supplies. During the first few weeks of school, your children will get a better sense of what supplies they’ll actually be using and what would just be excess. Plus, you may be able to capitalize on sale prices following peak back-to-school shopping season. 

Rent or Buy Used Equipment

There are some items that are just too expensive and can totally throw off your budget. After school activities and extracurricular activities often require equipment, such as a musical instrument for the school band and miscellaneous sports equipment. By renting these items (or buying second-hand), you can save a lot of money while still letting your kids pursue whatever activity they want to participate in. Rent My Instrument charges low monthly rental payments for a variety of instruments, and stores such as Play It Again Sports offer used sporting goods for a fraction of the price. 

Collect Coupons 

Despite back-to-school season being one of the most profitable sales times for big box stores and retailers, many still offer great coupons for an extra incentive to get you in the door. Signing up for email offers from stores can deliver deals and discounts straight to your inbox. If you’re opting to do your back-to-school shopping online this year, try using apps like Honey that will automatically help you find the best available discount code to make sure you never spend more than you have to. 

Buy in Bulk 

If you have some extra space to store items, buying in bulk is a great way to save money on certain items. Bulk purchases are especially helpful for households with multiple children going back to school — you can buy the essentials and use them throughout the entire year, and possibly into the next year as well. 

Many schools and teachers do not have the budget to afford all the classroom necessities themselves, and often ask parents to lend a helping hand. A recent study even found that teachers spend more than $600 out of their own pockets — approximately $2.2 billion total annually across all U.S. teachers — to ensure their classrooms have the necessary supplies for a productive learning environment. 

If you have the ability to contribute, buying in bulk is a great way not only to get the supplies you need for your family, but also enough to donate supplies to the entire classroom. Items like disinfectant wipes, tissues, pencils, and even non-perishable snacks are great for buying in bulk and will last you many months. 

Visit the Dollar Store 

You can get a great bargain on a majority of your school supplies at the dollar store. These shops often carry basic essentials such as notebooks and writing instruments, and even items like dry erase markers that you can donate to the classroom. 

Printables for Kids  

We’ve created unique printables to help manage your back-to-school shopping budget, and that will help your kids stay organized and on track the entire year. Don’t forget to print copies of our “coupons” to help teach the kids the importance of prioritizing and budgeting.

Shopping “Coupons” 

These printable “coupons” are a helpful tool to help younger children learn about budgeting and prioritizing. They can redeem a coupon for one nice-to-have clothing item, or to help them make decisions about what supplies they really want. We’ve also provided blank coupons so you can create your own exclusive shopping deal for your little ones!

School Subjects Stickers

During your back-to-school shopping, you may notice that the plain colored folders and binders tend to be less expensive than the colorfully branded products from your kids’ favorite TV shows and movies. The good news is that you can save a bit on your back-to-school budget and still give kids a colorful folder with these printable stickers. It allows them to get creative and put their own unique mark on their school supplies! You can print these on a standard sticker/label sheet from home. 

Homework Planner

Rather than buying an annual planner, these printable homework planners can help you and your student keep track of assignments every week. By laminating this weekly planner, you can reuse this week after week using dry erase markers. Not only will this help you save a few bucks, but it’ll also help you stay organized throughout the school year.

Printable for Adults

If you need some extra assistance staying on budget during your back-to-school shopping trips, this printable shopping checklist will help you stick to the task at hand.

Shopping Checklist

Walk into the stores with a plan in hand… literally. Print out this shopping checklist to ensure you only get the items your family needs, and also keep your estimated budget in mind while you shop.

Getting everything your kids need for back-to-school doesn’t need to break the bank. There are plenty of ways to save money and still be prepared for the new year ahead. With a little bit of planning and thrifty shopping, you’ll be able to send your kids off to school with everything they need to be successful.


Busy Budgeter | CNBC | The Motley Fool | Dave Ramsey | My Money Coach 

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