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Back to school on a budget

Easy-to-follow tips on how to stretch that budget

It is never too early to start thinking about back to school shopping

More back to school shoppers can be found starting to check off the supply list as early as July and continuing to check off items through the first days of school. This is not necessarily the case of the early bird gets the worm, but an attempt to spread out the rising cost of supplies.1 The average amount each household plans to spend on these items is a whopping $890.2

So it’s no surprise that parents plan to do more comparative online shopping (45%), shop sales more frequently (45%), buy more generic products (39%), and use coupons more often (27%).1

We’re here to offer some ideas on how to stretch that budget.

Stick with the basics

Take inventory of what your child already has from last year — and can reuse — to avoid doubling up on any items. Then create a list (and set a realistic budget) before you head to the store or shop online. The school typically will send a list of items needed in the classroom.

August is generally a good month for back-to-school shopping because of sales and tax-free days in some states.3 More than 20 states have sales tax holidays on the calendar.

Just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you should buy something. Avoid impulse buys by sticking to your list and budget. This is a good lesson that will serve your child well in the future.

You may not need to get every item on the supply list before the first day of school. Ask your child’s teacher what’s expected. You might get a better deal if you wait until after school starts to buy some items.

You might be planning to do a little online and in-store shopping. Keep in mind that shipping delays might slow down the arrival of your online purchases. However, if you plan ahead and can wait it out, it’s likely you’ll get better deals online.

Many big-box retailers will match competitors’ prices, so shop around. For easy comparison shopping, check out websites that do the research for you and aggregate prices. In addition, wholesale stores can offer a good value on back-to-school supplies and bulk items that you can split up among your other children or another family.

Help teachers with their budgets — if you can

It’s not unusual for educators to spend their own money to make sure their classrooms are well stocked for returning students. For example, in one state, teachers spent an average of $673 on classroom supplies.4 Find out the needs of your child’s school by asking the teachers or principal.

Look cool for school — plan your clothes shopping accordingly

It’s fun to add a few new outfits to your child’s wardrobe. But it’s likely warm weather will hang around for the first few weeks of school. So it’s a good time for deals on end-of-summer sales. A short time later, you’re sure to see the prices fall on back-to-school clothing.

Parents’ groups and thrift stores are good options to help save on the clothing budget. In fact, partly in response to wanting to do better for the planet, the popularity of secondhand stores is on the upswing, growing 7X faster than the broader retail clothing market.  By 2028 new shoppers are expected to account for 65% of incremental secondhand spend.5

Get there — carpool, walk, ride a bike

With the high price of gas, consider setting up a carpool with the other parents in your neighborhood. You’ll save some money and it’s a nice way to get to know your neighbors. If your school is within walking distance, consider organizing a walking or biking group. You’ll make friends and memories before the first bell rings.

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1. Grgich, Lea. “Gearing up to go back to class,” National Retail Federation,, August 24, 2023.

2. Back-to-Class Data Center, NRF's Annual 2023 Back-to-College Spending Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics,, 2023.

3. Back to School Budgeting Tips and Worksheet, American Consumer Credit Counseling, 2024.

4. Heubeck, Elizabeth. Most Teachers Spend Their Own Money on School Supplies. Should They?. Education Week, August 25, 2023.

5. 2024 Resale Report,, 2024.

DOFU 6-2024