Amid surging inflation, families face a new financial dilemma—paying for back-to-school. Considering the average American household is already spending nearly $500 more per month on basic necessities, finding extra cash to pay for school supplies, clothing and tech may seem impossible.
Parents are expected to spend $661 per student on back-to-school supplies and clothing, according to Deloitte’s 2022 Back-to-School study. Meanwhile, another study found that 75 percent of parents are stressed about paying for back-to-school shopping and about 3 in 10 expect to take on debt.
Though prices are up and the first day of school is looming, you don’t have to stress or take on debt to afford back-to-school purchases. Here are 7 tips to stretch your school shopping budget:
Shop at home first.
Chances are you have leftover supplies from last year so shop your home first. Perhaps you can put together a pack of scattered crayons, rip out pages in half-used notebooks, reuse folders and binders and wash backpacks. And, don’t assume your child needs all new clothing or uniform attire. Go through your kid’s wardrobe to figure out what fits and keep a list of items that need to be replaced.
Swap supplies and clothing.
Just as you have leftover supplies from last year, so do other families so set up a school supply or clothing swap with other parents or check with your school to see if they have already arranged a similar event. Many private schools will host a uniform exchange.
Otherwise, go online to swap: Swoondle Society allows parents to trade their kids’ clothing and accessories; Swap Me Sports offers opportunities to swap sporting goods, and Buy-Nothing Groups or local-mom groups on Facebook can be a treasure trove of free school goods.
Think outside regular retail.
Forget regular retail–stretch your budget by shopping second-hand. You can find gently-used clothing for up to 80% savings at Thredup or Poshmark, gently-used backpacks and sporting goods on OfferUp, and score up to 60% off certified refurbished electronics. Just make sure you shop with a reputable retailer and check eBay’s certified refurbished category, Amazon’s renewed products and Best Buy open-box deals, all of which come with a warranty.
Look out for nearby sales tax holidays.
Several states offer tax-free or reduced sales tax rates in August. Qualifying items vary from state to state, but often include basic school supplies, clothing, shoes, backpacks and even electronics. For example, Texas will waive sale tax on clothing, footwear, backpacks and school supplies priced under $100 from August 5 to 7 and Connecticut will host its tax-free week from August 21 to 27 for certain clothing and footwear items worth up to $100 each.
If you missed the tax free event in your state or they didn’t offer one, don’t overlook the opportunity to save if you’re traveling to one of the 15 states that offers tax-free deals this month.
Earn free gift cards to pay for school items.
Whether you have miles built up in your frequent flyer account or points on your credit card, consider redeeming rewards for gift cards to use towards back-to-school shopping. You can even tap into a cash back rebate app like Fetch Rewards to turn everyday shopping receipts into free gift cards to stores like Target, Walmart and Amazon to help cover school supply costs. Finally, you can earn free gift cards by taking online surveys at sites like MyPoints.
This is also a good time to look at getting a new cash-back credit card as many offer free cash bonuses when you hit their spending minimum and that could cover a big chunk of your school purchases. Review cash-back cards at sites like CardRates.com to find the best one for your shopping needs.
Leverage tech to snag bigger bargains.
As retailers fluctuate prices daily, knowing who has the best price can be confusing but using a few money-saving apps and browser tools can help you snag bigger bargains. Download PriceBlink to your browser for instant price comparison and Sidekick from Coupon Cabin to get coupons applied to your online cart automatically. For in-store shopping, compare store circulars using the Flipp app and Edison Mail Deals to locate exclusive subscriber savings in your inbox quickly.
Stick to store brand and split bulk purchases.
You can save 30 to 50 percent on school supply basics like notebooks, pencils, print paper and folders by simply opting for the store brand over the name brand. For example, this Five Star 1 subject notebook retails for $3.39 but you can snag the same style from Target’s Up&Up brand on sale for just 95 cents.
Finally, splitting bulk purchases with other parents is a great way to snag cheaper per unit prices without dishing out more dollars upfront.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer-savings expert, writer and frequent on-air contributor who is passionate about helping families find simple ways to spend less and save more. Andrea has appeared on popular shows like Today, Good Morning America and NBC Nightly News. Her advice and articles have been featured in New York Times, Time, Money, Forbes and Real Simple.