Back-to-School Shopping Tips to Stretch Your Budget

Posted by Amanda on August 3, 2010

As a child my mother would take me, my sister, and our brother back-to-school shopping every year around August. It was quite the exciting time because we never got to the stores otherwise, so it was the only time of year that clothes, shoes, or other non-food essentials were purchased for us.

I remember gearing up ahead of time by looking through the JCPenny catalog, taking note of any current trends on television, and making a list of what I was looking for. After all, back then I felt that clothes and the items I possessed really defined who I was, and could catapult me from the unknown category into instantaneous popularity! (Boy am I glad I grew out of that phase).

Since the internet was non-existent back then, my mother could not have known of all the great deals that were out there, and so we normally had to shop at the $9.99 store. Had the internet been around, she would have known that you can buy name brand, quality items for both school supplies and clothing and still stick within your budget.  And I’m here to show you how to do just that: stretch your back-to-school budget to its breaking point.

Note: Even if you are not a parent, this is a great time of year to stock up on your own office supplies, or to purchase items to donate to school aged children.

School Supplies: Paper, Pencils, Notebooks, etc.

  • Purchase the Sunday Paper: The deals have all ready started flowing in the Sunday papers, including the famous 1₵ sales from the office stores. Each week you will see a new set of office supplies on sale for a ridiculously low price, sometimes with a minimum purchase, but most times without. Be disciplined enough to go into the office store once a week for the next several weeks and take advantage of only the ridiculously low-cost items. If there is a $5 minimum purchase, you can normally purchase $5 worth of the really cheap items to meet the threshold—go ahead and stock up on these for next year or donate them.
  • Be on the Lookout for Rebates: Many of the big box office stores offer free items after rebate this time of year, for items such as calculators and printer paper. The rebates are oftentimes in the form of a gift card to use at the store or a prepaid visa gift card, so if you start shopping early enough you can purchase some of these more expensive items and then use the rebate to purchase the much cheaper items. This will really stretch your budget.
  •  Purchase from Dollar Stores: Many items at the Dollar Store are not worth the money because of the poor quality, but things like rulers, reusable binders, notebook paper and index cards are safe. Recently I saw a coupon in the Family Dollar circular in the Sunday paper for $5 off a $25 purchase, so be on the lookout for more and bundle your purchases together to meet that $25 threshold. Remember, you can use coupons at dollar stores.
  • Drugstore Game: Have you heard of the drugstore game? In a nutshell, you purchase products at CVS and Walgreens and receive ExtraCare Bucks or Register Rewards back to spend at the store. Instead of using money to purchase things the next week, you use the ExtraCare Bucks (ECBs) and/or Register Rewards (RRs) on items that will earn you more ECBs/RRs, thus “rolling” the ECBs. Once you build them up, you can use them to pay for most of your school supplies.


    Most of your budget will be spent on clothing your child/children, and so this is definitely an area to use some strategy on. Fortunately for back-to-school shoppers we have been in a recession and the deals on clothing are just fantastic this year.

    • Before you begin shopping, take a look at your child’s wardrobe and pick out items they can no longer wear to donate (make sure you get a receipt for an end-of-year tax deduction). Take another glance at these items and make sure they are non-repairable or do not fit. Perhaps your son still fits into his sneakers, but the sneakers need a little shining up with sneaker paint and soap. If sneakers are worn but still fit, you could purchase a pair of Dr. Scholl’s inserts to increase their support instead of purchasing a brand new pair of shoes. 
    • For teenagers who have stopped growing (but really, really want new clothing), keep main components of their wardrobe and update what is left. For example, anything that can layer should be kept, such as cardigans and vests, because you can purchase a few new shirts to go underneath of these items for a new look. Keep pants, but purchase new shirts.
    • The Department Stores generally have weekly coupons in the Sunday paper for an extra 15%- 20% off of clearance items—I would start there, as I am amazed time and time again at what you can find in a store’s clearance section. Children’s Place, Old Navy, and Kohl’s have also been having spectacular sales over the last several months, with many seasonal items in their clearance sections either online or in the store.
    • Check out the following blogs for weekly and daily deals for clothing, office supplies, and anything else you may need: Money Saving Mom and The Krazy Coupon Lady.
    • Remember that when you are shopping online, you can normally have the items shipped to the store nearest you for no shipping costs. Also, do a google search for online coupon codes for that particular store to see what you might find.

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Comments to Back-to-School Shopping Tips to Stretch Your Budget

  1. Get a list from your child’s school for supplies, that way you don’t have to guess and spend extra time and money.


  2. Jenna beat me to it. I’d also suggest stocking up on the best deals before school starts is an excellent way to have the supplies for the second half of the school year too…I’m amazed about how many supplies seem to be left in my husband’s classroom over a few months…all those kids need pencils and paper the rest of the year too. 🙂

    Budgeting in the Fun Stuff

    • Hello Crystal–I would not have thought kids were running out of supplies by the second half of the year. Thanks for your comment.

      Amanda L Grossman

  3. Don’t forget to see if your state has a ‘tax-free’ weekend. I know Texas does…and it appears they’ve expanded what comes under the ‘tax-free’ incentive, including school supplies.

    Since I’m in Texas, I’ll be posting the list on my site soon –

    You should check out your state’s government page to see if they do this where you live.

    Derek Epperson

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