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Back to school time is right around the corner, and you’re probably getting ready to print off your school supply list if you haven’t already. Are you cringing at how much it’s all going to cost? Today we’re talking about how to save money on back to school supplies so you don’t break the bank and blow your monthly budget out of the water.

How to Save Money on Back to School Supplies

I’ve been seeing pictures of receipts on Instagram showing how much people have been spending on their back to school supplies. It’s interesting to see how much it varies, but overall, everyone gets a bit of sticker shock at how much it all costs.

Of course I make sure that each of my kids have exactly what they need for the school year, but there are a few things I do to keep the cost down.

11 Ways to Save Money on Back to School Supplies

1. Determine Your Supplies Budget

I recognize that the school gives you a list of recommended items, but knowing your budget will help you make smarter purchases. If you take your kids along on your shopping trip, you’ll know if it fits within the budget to get the folder with the design versus the plain folder (or the name brand crayons versus generic).

Do you know what your budget is for school supplies? If you are interested in putting together a family budget, check out my post all about creating a simple and livable family budget.

Free 25-Page Ultimate Budget Binder

2. Take an Inventory of What You Already Have

I recommend shopping at home first before heading to the store. This may be more difficult if your kids have never attended school before, but I can guarantee you have some crafting supplies to pull from. If your kids have attended school in the past, make sure to inventory what they brought home from the previous year.

3. Keep a Detailed List of What You Need

Make sure you print the school supply list(s) and organize everything in a way that makes sense for you. I like to lump items together in one master list from the three separate grade levels I have to shop for. It can be overwhelming trying to track three different lists. I also have the ability to see if I can buy in bulk and give a portion to each child.

4. Decide Where to Shop

I try to choose the store with the most deals or offering back to school sales. You may even decide to shop online rather than going to the store if you shop early enough. Last year I waited until the last minute and a lot of what I needed was already sold out or I had to buy the name brand version.

I generally check out the store flyers before going and pick a store based on deals that I find. I usually get most of my school supplies at Walmart or the Dollar Store.

5. Remember Supplies for Homework

I didn’t even think about this the first year my oldest attended school. He had homework that required a glue stick and we didn’t have one at our house. Buying a few extras at a good price will keep you prepared for any project that comes your way.

6. Wait for State Tax Free Weekends

17 different states participate in tax free weekends, and you can check if your state is on the list HERE. Each state that participates has different rules and exclusions, so be sure to check those out before you head out the door. It’s a busy shopping weekend, but you can save quite a bit of money.

7. Skip Fancy and Choose Plain Instead

The fancier folders, pens, scissors, etc. are always more expensive than the plain version. Skip the fancy items and let your kids personalize the plain ones. I have actually stopped bringing one of my kids school supply shopping with me, because he just can’t handle me choosing the plain when he sees the fancy.

Folders get ripped and scissors get lost, so save your money and buy the least expensive version.

8. Take Advantage of Student Discounts

Depending on your child’s current grade level, they may need some pretty pricey items for the year. We’ve known people who have even needed iPads and computers for their kids. Check if the store has a student discount so you can take advantage where possible.

9. Don’t Buy Everything at Once

Most school supply lists include things like cleaning wipes and Kleenex. If you’re struggling to stay within your budget, delay purchasing these items and send them a little bit later in the year. Your child’s classroom won’t need them immediately with all of the other kids’ contributions to the class.

Spread out purchases in a way that is more manageable but also provides your kids with what they need at the very beginning of the school year.

10. Stock Up When You See Sales

I am a huge fan of stockpiling items when they are sale, but I only recommend doing this if you have room in your budget to do so. A sale isn’t a good deal for you if you can’t truly afford it.

If you do have room in your budget, use sales as an opportunity to prepare for the next school year. There are a ton of items you know your child will need, and you can even print off the older grade level’s school supply list.

11. Use Rakuten to Shop Online

This is my top tip that I actually want to shout from the rooftops. If you’re not using Rakuten for all online purchases, even school supplies, then you’re missing out on easy cash back.

If you shop at stores like Walmart for school supplies, you can even shop online and do in-store pick-up. With Walmart, you never even have to set foot in the store. Walmart does the shopping and loads your car for FREE with their grocery pick-up option. Use my link and get $10 just for trying it.

Save on School Supplies at Walmart with Rakuten

With Rakuten, you sign up for an account, choose the store where you want to shop (there are thousands), and then you’ll be redirected to that store’s site to shop as you normally would. Percentages of cash back change occasionally, but you’ll currently see some of the following deals:

  • Walmart: up to 5% cash back (most school supplies are 1%)
  • Amazon: up to 5% cash back
  • Dollar Tree: 1% cash back
  • Staples: 4% cash back
  • Apple: 2% cash back
  • Target 1% cash back

Get $10 cash back just for signing up with Rakuten when you use my link.

If you sign up for Walmart grocery pick-up AND Rakuten, that’s $20 cash back right there!

Before You Start Shopping

Before you head out the door, make sure to get prepared. Taking a little bit of time to do your research and sign up for a few cash back opportunities can save you a lot of headache and money this upcoming school year.

Even better, just sit on your couch and do your shopping online!

Are you excited or sad for your kids to head back to school? School supply shopping means Summer break is coming to an end!

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Resources I Love

Rakuten: Rakuten is a total no-brainer for saving money when shopping online.  Every time you shop online, click on a store through Rakuten to receive cash back on all of your purchases. Get $10 after your first $25 purchase when you use my link.

Ibotta: Ibotta is my favorite app for saving money on groceries without clipping coupons. Get cash back on your groceries just by uploading your receipts. Get $5 just for signing up when you click on my link.

Walmart Grocery Pick-Up: Walmart Grocery Pickup is seriously a game-changer, especially when you have kids! You order fresh groceries, Walmart does the shopping and loads your car for FREE. Use my link and get $10 just for trying it.

Free 25-Page Ultimate Budget Binder


Sarah Nichols

Sarah Nichols, founder and CEO of Let's Talk Mom Business, has a background in business, research, advocacy, and family finances. LetsTalkMomBusiness.com combines her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and her love for budgeting and frugal living to help others take their family finances into their own hands by teaching budget basics, how to earn income from home as a mom, DIY tutorials, and frugal fun.

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