Tips for Reducing Back to School Spending

According to a recent article, parents spend about $500 per child, per year on school supplies. Whether it’s the big-box retailers or your local strip mall, families will be tempted to spend big on clothing, technology, and supplies as the school year approaches.

Successfully getting your children back to school will create some financial obstacles unless you have a strategy to avoid these costs. This principle also applies to after-school programs and school fees. Here are some great tips for drastically reducing your spending while retaining the same quality for a new school year.

Ignore Cultural Pressures

We often feel pressured by friends, family, and marketers to get the latest tech items or new outfits for our children. But this is often unnecessary, as items like tablets and clothing usually last multiple years when properly taken care of. For example, an iPad is a great resource because it can minimize paper use while providing your child with dozens of schoolwork-related applications. However, does this mean your child needs to upgrade to the latest iPad Pro when it comes out? Probably not. The functionality of most modern technology endures for at least five years. Focus on proper routine care of your technology, and you’ll be able to maximize your child’s use of it.

Buy In Bulk

If you have a strong hunch your child will be going through plenty of school supplies in one year, buy in bulk whenever feasible. Bulk items are almost always cheaper than individual purchases, and then you won’t have to worry about shopping later in the school year. Once your items have been purchased, split them in half, and only allow your child to access the second half once the first half has been used.

Shop from “Non”-Office Supply Stores

Target, Walmart, Best Buy, and Staples are just a few brick-and-mortar stores that specialize in bulk school supplies around August. These stores offer plenty of variety and brands to choose from, and generally at cheaper price points than supply-driven brands like Office Depot or Office Max.

Your local dollar store also provides budget-friendly options if you’re willing to be flexible on quality. While it’s not to say everything you purchase here will instantly break down, the dollar store is best reserved for items like writing utensils and paper.

Buy Online – Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, and Others

Resale websites such as Craigslist and eBay are ideal if money is particularly tight. With Craigslist, remember that “what you see is what you get”, so don’t assume any quality assurance past what’s visible in pictures. If you’re getting your child a calculator or some other piece of hardware, remember to test it in person before handing over the cash. You’re always entitled to ask questions as the buyer.

eBay is reliable for used or rentable textbooks; just make sure you’re getting the right version, as many textbooks have been revised and re-published multiple times. eBay is also a higher general guarantee of quality across the board, but remember to check the seller’s rating and reputation before purchasing.

Amazon remains the market leader when it comes to finding convenient deals on common products. For additional savings, try Google Chrome extensions like Honey or Amazon Discount Finder that alert you when prices are lowest. Other online outlets include,, and

Use What You Already Own

If your child is going off to college, there are additional ways to furnish their dorm room while keeping costs low. Your child may have acquired items like clothing organizers, storage bins, a small trash can and desktop lamp during high school, so take advantage of what you can. Unless there’s a clear reason for something brand new, it’s wise to utilize existing equipment to maximize its longevity.

Remember To Budget For After-School Programs

Another often-overlooked cost for students is after-school programs, such as sports leagues or programs involving travel. While there’s nothing wrong with an extracurricular activity that your child loves, obtain a copy of the program requirements as soon as you can, and look for the space in your budget. If you feel the activity is well worth it but money is limited, speak with the staff member who runs the program, and see what arrangements can be agreed upon.

Utilize Strategic Timing

If there are items you can wait to purchase until after the August rush, they are likely to be cheaper. This is because August and January are the two busiest months for school supply retailers.

Some items like folders, backpacks, pens, and highlighters are usually needed right away. For items like poster board, craft materials, or more expensive items, consult with your child’s teacher(s) before purchasing. If there’s a specific piece of technology or hardware your child needs for one project only, see if they can borrow it from a friend or family member. While these instances occur less often, borrowing something that you don’t need to buy is an excellent way to conserve spending.

As Proverbs 21:5 says, “the plans of the diligent lead to profit, as surely as haste leads to poverty.” The Bible is clear that if we take time to arrange our spending wisely, we won’t be scrambling to figure things out when it’s least convenient.

To learn more about upcoming financial stewardship events at Willow, click here. If you have specific questions about our classes, email us at [email protected]

This post was written by Financial Stewardship Volunteer Brad Johnson.



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