8 tips to help you save money on back-to-school shopping in 2022 – CNBC

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Sharpen your pencils and fill your backpacks because schools will be back in session before you know it. Each new school year often means a fresh set of supplies, clothes or a new tech gadget — or maybe all three. 

According to the National Retail Federation’s Back-to-School 2022 survey, families plan to spend a whopping $864, on average, on back-to-school supplies this year. Among college students and their families, that number jumps to $1,199.

With countless back-to-school deals and discounts, it’s important to be savvy when choosing your items so you don’t end up overspending or purchasing any unnecessary products. Before you start shopping, read through these tips to help you save money on all things back-to-school.

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Pay with the right credit card

Credit cards can help you save in two ways. First, by paying with the right card, you may be able to earn generous amounts of cash back and/or benefit from certain cards’ introductory 0% APR periods. Second, many credit card issuers offer exclusive, limited-time deals through cardholder programs such as Amex Offers and Chase Offers, which usually involve more opportunities to score bonus points or cash back. Note that activation may be required to get in on these types of deals.

One of the best cards for maximizing back-to-school shopping is the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers valuable rewards and a 0% introductory APR for the first 18 months of account membership (after, 16.24% – 26.24% variable). Cardholders can also earn a $200 cash back welcome bonus after spending $1,500 in the first six months after account opening, plus 2% cash back on all eligible purchases — that’s 1% cash back on purchases and another 1% once you pay off your bill.

Citi® Double Cash Card

On Citi’s secure site

  • Rewards

    2% cash back: 1% on all eligible purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill

  • Welcome bonus

    For a limited time, earn $200 cash back after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening.

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

    16.24% – 26.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    For balance transfers completed within 4 months of account opening, an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer ($5 minimum) applies; after that, a balance transfer fee of 5% of each transfer ($5 minimum) applies

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

Terms apply.

If you have a lot on your shopping list, consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited® Card and its generous welcome bonus of an additional 1.5% cash back on up to $20,000 worth of spending during your first year of account membership — this essentially bumps up your earning potential to 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 4.5% cash back on dining and drugstore purchases and 3% cash back for all other spending.

After that, you’ll earn the regular reward rates of 5% cash back for travel purchased directly through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back when you shop at drugstores and dine at restaurants (including takeout and select delivery services) and 1.5% cash back for all other purchases.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

On Chase’s secure site

  • Rewards

    Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 1.5% on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn an extra 1.5% on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back. That’s 6.5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 4.5% on dining and drugstores, and 3% on all other purchases.

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    16.49% – 25.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Intro fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

Make a list — and think twice about each item

It’s a simple but important trick: Write down what you need, not what you want. Maybe it’s highlighters, a pair of jeans or a calculator. Before you add an item to the list, envision how you would use it in your daily student life, how often you’d use it and the reason you want it in the first place.

Don’t buy something just because you see your peers adding it to their carts, and deeply consider the ways the item will enhance your school experience. Once your list is complete, it will provide a mental incentive to stick to those items only, which will save you money at checkout. 

Buy used or refurbished items

There are plenty of apps and sites out there to help you track down any used or refurbished items on your list, including Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, Etsy, Depop and Mercari, among countless others.

Whether you’re shopping for textbooks, electronics or clothing, you’ll pay less this way than if you were to buy the item brand new. Plus, you can usually find discounted items in “like new” condition on most of these platforms.

Go through a shopping portal

Shopping portals such as Rakuten allow you to earn bonus cash back, points or airline miles for your purchases on top of the rewards you’re already earning by using your credit card.

Simply search for the merchant you’d like to shop from on one of these portals, then click through to be redirected to its website. Place your order like you normally would, and thanks to a few additional clicks, you’ll rack up additional rewards. For example, at the time of this writing, you can earn an extra 2% back at Apple, Staples and Office Depot by shopping through Rakuten.

Pro tip: Eligible American Express cardholders can opt to earn Membership Rewards® points instead of cash back for purchases made through Rakuten.

Take advantage of coupon codes

Though you may have to scour the web to find them, there are often coupons or promo codes out there that can help you save even more money. CouponCabin and RetailMeNot can be good starting points when searching for coupons.

Use browser extensions to compare deals

You might think you’ve found the best deal out there, but there’s a good chance there are even better prices still waiting to be discovered.

Browser extensions such as Honey track them down for you so you don’t have to sift through every website to find your pencil case at the lowest available price point on the Internet. In addition to price comparisons, browser extensions may also automatically apply coupons at checkout or help you earn cash back while shopping online.

Take advantage of student discounts 

With a simple Google search, you’ll find lists of stores of all categories that will mark off items if you flash your student ID. For example, Apple, Microsoft, H&M, Madewell, American Eagle and Goodwill all offer discounts just for students.

You can also take advantage of student discounts through sites such as Unidays and Student Beans or by signing up for a discounted Amazon Prime Student membership. Note that these discounts are usually intended for higher education students, though they sometimes extend to grades K-12.

If you live in certain states, shop on sales tax holidays

To help ease the financial burden, several states are offering a break on sales tax for back-to-school supplies. For example, if you live in Maryland, shop between Aug. 14–20 to score savings of up to $100 on clothing and footwear. Check the list of 2022 sales tax holidays to see this year’s options.

Bottom line

It can be easy to buy that extra gadget or an overpriced backpack when you’re not deploying tools such as these to help you save money. Whether you’re just looking for new pens or shopping for an entirely new wardrobe, there are always ways to be more price conscious and find better deals. By using these tips and tricks, you can avoid overspending this back-to-school season.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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