Practical Tips For Back-To-School Shopping

school suppliesI was walking through Wal-Mart the other day and they had all their back to school stuff already on display! I’m talking AISLES of stuff! I remember thinking…they are really pushing it by putting it out this early…until I looked at my calendar this morning! YIKES! My high schooler has registration TODAY! HELP!

I do this EVERY YEAR! I never “plan” for Back To School Shopping! It always hits me like a bolt out of a clear blue sky…even though I’ve been doing it for the past 18 years! sheesh…you’d THINK I’d learn.

Not only is it always a mad dash to get everything we need…it’s also a financial CRUNCH because I haven’t set anything aside. Did you know the typical family will spend approximately $600 on back-to-school apparel, school supplies and electronics this year??? It’s all a bit overwhelming.

Well, I have combed the internet looking for USEFUL and PRACTICAL tips for Back To School Shopping for myself this year…and (of course) wanted to share them with you. Hopefully you’ll find something helpful too!

Here are some of my favorites:

Make a list and prioritize it

Determine your child’s immediate needs: Maybe it’s a new backpack, long sleeve shirts, or tennis shoes. Spend on those items first, and plan on budgeting for the rest later in the year. source:  



back to school shopping

Shop for CLOTHING later

This is probably my favorite and one I try to do already. Of course my kids hate it…but makes so much sense! Starting the end of September and early October, department stores have to make room for holiday merchandise so they start hosting fall clearance sales. Buy a couple of outfits for the beginning of school year (I’m afraid this is mandatory…you can’t send your kids to school on the first day in something “OLD”! *gasp*) and buy the rest when these sales begin. It really helps break up the spending. Plus, in most states, the weather doesn’t change right away, so there’s no real need for fall clothing on the first day of school!    




back to school shopping

Bring Your Smartphone

Your phone is your “secret weapon” when school shopping! With smartphones in hand you can scan product bar codes or QR codes (those square patterns that can be read by smartphones) to learn more about the products you’re thinking of buying. The Google Shopper app allows people to scan a product’s bar code, and shows the prices for that same product at various stores in your area. Retailers also have their own apps. When you download the Best Buy Shopkick app, you will be notified of discounts of 10 to 15 percent off certain items when you enter a store. The “geek” in me LOVES this stuff. :-) source:      



back to school shopping

Oh…and Don’t Forget About Facebook

People spend 700 billion minutes per month on the global social networking site, and retailers realize that, so they are running promotions on the site. Target and other major retailers feature back to school deals that can only be found on their Facebook sites. So check them out and make Social Media work for you! source:      



back to school shopping

Get Crafty

Justin Bieber notebooks are on every little girl’s wishlist. But character-branded school supplies usually cost more than plain ones. Instead of paying extra, host a “DIY” party for your kids and their friends where they can decorate their own notebooks and folders with photos from the Internet or pulled from magazines. Decorate inexpensive plain, white binders with digital photos by creating a collage and inserting the page into the plastic outer cover. Use the same idea for boys by featuring the latest superhero. Not only is it frugal, but it also helps your kids reconnect with their friends before the first day of class. source:      



back to school shopping

Shop At Home First

Before you go shopping, take a home inventory of school supplies and clothes. Have your kids try on last year’s jeans to see if they still fit, and make a note of what basic clothing items need to be replaced. Look in drawers and cabinets to find the notebooks and calculators you already have. Any item already on-hand is a bonus freebie, so check the house for rulers and protractors, pencils and binder paper. source:      



back to school shopping

Shop online

Not only will you be able to efficiently compare prices, but you are more likely to stick to your shopping list. It’s too easy to indulge in impulse buying in the stores. Be sure to check for online coupons before you click the “Checkout” button. makes it simple to search for any store’s current promotion codes.      



back to school shopping

Shop unconventionally

Some of the best back to school shopping deals and great surprises are in the oddest places. Dollar stores for T-shirts and socks; drugstores for deals on snacks, and so-called flash sales (time-limited, steep online discounts) for clothing and beauty supplies. For students going off to college, shop at wholesale clubs for bulk purchases of those critical college staples such as instant noodles and granola bars.      



back to school shopping Leave the kids at home

I know it’s tempting to bring your child back to school shopping, as it feels like a right of passage, but it’s easy to get sidetracked by all the pretty, shiny things lining the back to school shelves. If you want to include your little one in the back to school fun, I suggest doing the bulk of the shopping beforehand, and then making a special trip with your child for a few fun extras. Set a budget and make sure you and you both stick to it.      



back to school shopping Buy basics in bulk

You know you’ll need paper, pencils, glue sticks and notebooks. Dollar stores, warehouse stores and even eBay are sources for buying these and other basics in bulk. You and a group of other parents might be able to negotiate a group discount from an office supply store. Then set up a supply shelf or storage container in your home that you can use all year long. You’ll be able to avoid late-night shopping trips to buy notebook paper when you run out. And you’ll know where to find unused notebooks and pencils when it comes time to shop for back-to-school supplies next year. source:    



  back to school shopping Buy a lunch box

You can save so much money when you send your kids to school with a homemade lunch. Added bonus: It’s likely to be a healthier choice. And you can monitor the cost of your homemade lunch purchases by using grocery store coupons, packing leftovers and reusing water bottles. source:    



  back to school shopping Shop consignment stores in your area

Over the years, many quality consignment stores have cropped up that offer cash or store credits in exchange for gently used clothing. Not only are these great places to generate some quick cash for cleaning out a closet before school starts, they are also a good place to look for deals on designer clothing, if that is something you’re after. source:      



back to school shopping Take advantage of discounts

This really helps with big ticket items like computers or computer software. As a matter of fact…the good people at Microsoft are offering my readers 15% off Microsoft Office! This promotion ends on 9/14.

Microsoft Office is an item that should be on every mom (and kids) list, giving your kids everything they need to succeed, such as helping them collaborate on projects, take better notes and give more impressive presentations. Word has easy-to-use photo-editing tools and new photo effects, as well as automatic creation of a bibliography from in-paper citations. Excel helps kids aggregate and analyze date with the new Sparkline feature that gives a visual summary of the data. Kids can embed and edit videos with PowerPoint to make school presentations more dynamic. OneNote is like a digital notebook that helps kids get organized, capturing notes, images, video, audio and more.


Design school presentations that get attention!

For more information about Microsoft Office, click here. AND…be sure to visit Microsoft Office 2010′s brand pageon where you can read other bloggers posts.  


How is YOUR back to school shopping coming along?
And how are YOU saving money this year? 


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  1. Stephanie says

    I am one of those who monitored Walmart at the end of June/ beginning July waiting for Back-to-School sale/supplies. I discovered last year, their school supplies are much cheaper when they first stock. The closer to school start date the higher their prices seem to go. For example, the day they stocked, I bought one subject notebooks for $0.17. I went back the weekend before school started to pick up one more, and the exact same notebook was $0.97. Increase of $0.80 really???? So I bought super early this year! I also monitored their prices and they increased again. Their sales for Tax Free Weekend were more expensive than what I paid a month prior. My advice, of you can, shop when they first stock!

  2. Catherine's not naturally crafty says

    Many schools, ours do, have PTA programs where they partner with a local retailer and put together the required supplies. I price checked and the cost is the same or cheaper than buying in the stores, plus the PTA gets a cut of the sale so that’s good. And they always use a local store, not a national retailer. Plus I don’t have to shop, which I love. There always seems to be one item on the list that simply isn’t available in any store in town. Last year it was 11×17 manilla paper. Added bonus, our PTA found a place to buy the supply boxes from that double as memory storage, a please for name, school year etc. Wonderful!

  3. Mindy says

    One of the things I’ve done is register for an account. It’s free to sign up (in fact after I made a purchase through them they sent me a $10 home depot gift card). They offer a % back in rebates (CASH – well a check anyway) for every purchase you make (varies by vendor) and it’s for major online retailers (think, etc). The way it works is that you search for an item or store, etc and click on a link on their site. That will take you to the retailers site, where you do your shopping, purchasing directly through the retailer. Then once a quarter, they send you a check for a % of what you purchase. I bought 4 backpacks (good ones that will last more than 1 school year) and got a check for $26. Can you say FREE MONEY?!?! The prices for the items are competitive with going directly to the online retailer (or brick and mortar stores) as well.

  4. trudy says

    School starts here Thursday. I purchase school supplies early in the season. This year I bought 30 single subject notebooks at WalMart for 15 cents each and folders at Office Depot for a penny each. Dollar Tree is the best bet for glue, at least it is here.

    OpenOffice ( is an amazing and FREE substitute for Word. It’s programs integrate with Word’s products but…it’s FREE! (Did I tell you it’s free?) Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics and great support. My computer engineering son recommended it after my computer crashed and I was unable to find my registration info for Word.

  5. Stacy says

    I’m going to give a shameless plug for the open source software OpenOffice 3. You can waste money on Microsoft Office if you really want to, but OpenOffice is *free* and downloadable on the internet (just in case you haven’t found it yet). Is it as good or better than Microsoft Office 2010? Well it all depends on your opinion and for what purpose you use your Office software. If you want to make spreadsheets, word document files, presentations, calculations, even databasing! It works just as well. If you want that style and every command possible that MS Office 2010 provides, then OpenOffice is hurting. Their command setup is very similar to MS Office 2003 and 1998 (if you remember it). So if you are trying to save money, give the OpenOffice a chance before splurging on a sale of MS Office 2010.

  6. says

    Here’s a great tip for all those who are buying for the new college student: Shop dollar stores and drug stores for their end of season clearance items on housewares!!! You can find sturdy plastic cups, plates, and sometimes real silverware for a $1 or less! I bought a 3 or 4 pack of tall plastic cups from Walgreens during their summer clearance and paid just over a $1… 7 years ago! Some of the stuff you find is really durable, and if it gets lost or broken, it’s not that big of a deal!

  7. Rosy says

    If you are or have a student in college, don’t forget to check out the school’s technology store or bookstore if they have one. At my school, students can get the newest version of MS Office for about $35 and it is the full version. Waaaay cheaper than purchasing the “student edition” on They also have steep discounts on other software such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Adobe Reader, upgrades to Windows 7, etc. Don’t overlook all your options. :)

  8. Deborah Jennings says

    We don’t have any school aged children living with us, but we do have 15 grandchildren, 13 of whom still go to school. We buy school supplies at a local discount store and share with the grands. We also try to help with school clothes. We can’t buy them all, but we can buy 1 or 2 outfits through out the year for each one. Hubby uses the spiral notebooks a lot. I use folders and notebooks for my recipes and patterns and such.
    Love all of these tips.

  9. chandra says

    Hi Jillee! I love ur site. Lots of fun and informational blogs. I am new to you lol. I have found this helpful this year as school blinded me last week as well: ) the first thing i did was go to goodwill. I typically wouldn’t do this for the start of school year, bit I’m on a budget this year. Ok so ur thinking, goodwill? These poor kid BUT i found each of my 3 kids one or two brand new with tags, name brand jeans and shirts. Regular price i paid about 5.00 and got some half price for 3.00 (look for their color tag that week). THEN i hit the websites of officr max, office depot, target etc and found their 1 cent and 5 cent deals. So i knew exactly what was on sale at each store before i got there and got the cheapest from each store.
    I shipped clearance for name brand shoes at outlet stores. Needless to say i have spent about 150.00 on almost everything they needed for 3 kids, 2 junior high 1 intermediate! Yay!

  10. Monique says

    great information! I’m going to hold out on the clothes shopping until a bit later, like you suggest…maybe buy one new outfit for now. With 4 kids we need to shop smart :)
    One thing that I caught onto early on was the shopping for school supplies. At our old K-Mart they would put notebooks on sale for 10 cents each…we ALWAYS buy as many as allowed (usually 30) and keep them in a box marked “school supplies” to use whenever we need them. I do the same with any awesome deal I see. So I get my crayons for 25 cents, markers for 90 cents , etc. I do notice that every store will have a few” doorbusters” so you have to be willing to drive to the different stores to get all the best deals. Don’t get your crayons for 25 cents and then go wasting 3 bucks on markers in the same store, while the next store will have those on sale for next to nothing!

  11. Colleen says

    Lots of great tips here from you, and your many readers too! I had never heard of the Google shopper app which sounds fantastic, so just checked it out but it’s only available in the US (and UK) :-( How ironic in this ‘global’ era

  12. Eden says

    I shop all year long for clothing sales! My daughter doesn’t care if she is wearing the newest this season or not. I shop one size ahead of where she currently is at any given time. So, she might end up with a short-sleeve during the winter; not a big deal. That’s what sweaters are for; or she might end up with a long sleeve during the summer. Again, I just cut off the sleeves and sew it up nice. I always get a good mix of dresses, skirts, shorts, and pants, etc. I also, always buy leggings when they are on sale. Usually, I don’t spend more than $100 per school year on clothing and believe me, the girl usually has 20 outfits at any given time. So, she’s definitely not hurting for clothes. On top of it all, most of her clothes come from GAP, Gymboree, Crazy 8, etc. Oh, and when skirts or dresses start to get too short, I just add on some awesome lace and that takes care of the problem! She always gets complements on her outfits and people are always asking where I got them, etc.

    As far as school supplies, she has used the same backpack, binders, etc for the last 3 years! She has been taught to take care of her things! Also, she is very good about not being wasteful, using both sides of her paper, etc.

  13. Sally says

    One of my big ways to save is to ‘shop’ the stuff they bring home at the end of the school year. Every year the kids bring home all of the stuff from their desks and I pull out all of the supplies that have seen little wear and tear. I hate throwing away the 1/4 used composition books, so I cut out the used pages and save it for the next year. Same with the plastic folders, colored pencils, rulers, scissors, etc they are REQUIRED to have each year. Surprisingly, my one son has had the same composition book for 3 years now. Some years they never use more than 8-10 pages…can you tell it’s one of my pet peeves? This year the school is driving me slightly crazy by requiring 2 sets of markers and colored pencils (I made up one set from pencils that I’ve collected from the end of the year). Really? A 6th grader can’t be responsible enough to take one set from class to class?
    Another thing is to price check at a couple of different stores when you are out and about leading up to back to school shopping and just pick one with the overall cheapest prices. You’d be surprised how much gas you use going from store to store to get the best deals…usually negates the dollar or two you would save on back to school supplies. At least here where the stores aren’t that close.

  14. Susan says

    We are down to one in school now. We try to start her out for the school year on the bare minimum. If we can use stuff from last year, then that is what we start with. The week after Labor Day, all school supplies plummet drastically. Then we stock up for the year if we can….and once they hit middle school…they do NOT want wooden pencils any more so save your money there :D

    Mine is in a charter school with a dress code, so that cuts way down on our clothing costs and battles..

  15. Michael Eaton says

    i just want to mention this…..Open office is free and it does everything that MS Office does did i mention free? and it reads and right almost every version of a word processor rights. Doc, from almost every MS Word build, the Exel (aka Calc in OO) is designed to almost clone the MS Exel spreadsheets and writes to that too. Ive been using OO for about 4 years and do not miss MS office at all. Just so you know that I still have the MS Office that came in my new laptop but have not for a second wanted to use it since MS Office 97. I also would say it has a database component a graphic program and more. I personally use Gimp for photo editting instead of Photoshop. The interface and a few ways it does certain things are the only differences. Free also.

  16. Mama t says

    My oldest is only in preschool, but I remember how my mom would do back to school shopping. She would stock up for next year’s supplies when the current year’s supplies went on clearance. Usually when they start the fall clothing sales, the school supplies go on clearance as well. She would keep them all in a tote, so we would have them if needed. It also lessened the dent in the wallet the next year. I am starting to do it as well, stocking up on crayons, markers, glue sticks, notebooks, and all those items that we’ll need for the next few years.

  17. mdoe37 says

    I hit the Menards backpack sale a few weeks ago and then went on to Walmart for the fillings. I don’t have any kids, but I always go out and purchase some things to donate. I managed 10 backpacks and a big sack of stuff. Why?

    About 35 years ago, I sat in junior high home ec. The teacher asked if everyone had their material and patterns for their project. One girl answered no. The teacher proceeded to make a huge deal and embarrassed this poor child terribly. Anyone could see by her crappy clothes and grubby hair that she was not getting alot from home. Several days later the principal appeared — during class again — and took the young lady to get the required items.

    That has stuck with me all these years. So I donate a few items so that maybe another child doesn’t have to feel different. And besides it just isn’t fall without the smell of crayons!! :)

    • spitefulilsprite says

      That is beautiful, put just a little lump in my throat. Thank you for being the kind of person who would do that. I felt proud just because I said “yes” to three cashiers last week when they asked if I wanted to purchase a school item to donate, but reading your comment is a reality check that we could all do a little more:) Keep it up.

    • Deserae says

      I also donate to the local school supplies drive. Additionally, I am the president of our grade school PTO and we give the counselor a budget to purchase items for children in need. She always does it in a way that does not bring attention to the fact the family couldn’t afford it on their own.

  18. spitefulilsprite says

    Does anyone know of any sites to get better deals on school uniforms? My daughter is in Catholic school and the price of just one jumper is ghastly. I can get the shirts and other items generic so those are much more gentle on the wallet, but $80 for one dress that the kid wont fit in by the end of the year goes against every sensibility I have.

    • Catherine's not naturally crafty, says

      Sprite: JC Penney’s has uniforms and their prices are much more reasonable. I’m not sure if the jumper is a specific plaid or if she can wear a solid color. But you should check them out. of course, Lands End has a nice supply. They are more, but the selection is better and they are super durable. Their guarrantee is fabulous and they are still cheper than $80, yowsers, that’s expensive.

  19. Renee says

    My children alway get assigned binders in specific colors. (Difficult to purchase economically individually). I purchase white binders in bulk at my warehouse store and slip the assigned color into the outer sleeve and binding.

  20. Marta says

    I miss the days of back-to-school-shopping when my son was little. I used to make a list with him, and I showed him the budget that we had to work with, so we became a team when it came to finding savings. Not only did we save a lot, but also my son learned to shop smart. Now that he is grown and is starting his first year of college, the shopping is far more expensive! Scholarships cover only so much, and we’re still stuck with the high cost of textbooks and everyday living expenses, since he’s going to school out of state. After learning from one of my co-workers at Dish that I could get a Sling Adapter to keep my son entertained while away from home, I immediately got one. He just had to download the free Dish Remote Access app, and while he’s at school, he can stream live TV and our DVR recordings to his Smartphone. My son will be able to save the money he makes from his part-time job, instead of spending it on going out since he’ll have free entertainment on the go.

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