Back to School Shopping on a Budget

Back To School Shopping On A Budget from Fun Cheap or Free

When many of us think of back to school shopping, we think of finding a sale, buying as much as we can, and hoping it lasts us all year. Today, I'm going to CHANGE the way you think about back to school shopping.

I'll show you how to make school shopping:

  • Fit into your budget
  • A whole lot less stressful
  • A good learning experience for everyone! It's a bit unconventional, but it works!

You can watch the video online or click and watch below. I have ALL the details from the video (and many more!) beneath the video, so be sure to read on for full details! Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube Channel for new videos every Thursday! 

It's that time of year again. BACK TO SCHOOL. Our sanity cheers! Our wallets BOO. I thought I would help you keep your sanity (and wallet) intact this year by giving you guidelines on how much to spend on back to school shopping. Plus, how in the world to be able to AFFORD all those fees and expenses! Here are my top hacks on how to save money on back to school shopping on your own terms.

BACK TO SCHOOL SUPPLIES SHOPPING

Let’s start off by talking about school supplies. Regardless of your child’s age, they will always need supplies for school. It may vary as the years go by, but they’ll always need things. Here are my top tips for saving money on supplies.

INVENTORY YOUR SCHOOL SUPPLIES

If you’re anything like me, then you have extra school supplies at your house. Before you go crazy buying brand new packs at the store, look at what you have around your house! You probably won’t be able to completely forgo shopping at the store, but it’ll help you to save some money when you do have to shop! I’ve gotten lucky and been able to find leftover packs of things that we didn’t use throughout the year. 

Inventory Your Back To School Supplies from Fun Cheap or Free

I’ll also stock up during sales or buy in bulk and usually have extras laying around the house. Oh, and here’s a little tip for you. As soon as all the supplies go CRAZY on-sale, stock up for next year! This also works for things that aren't uber trendy, and things that are one-size-fits-all like backpacks and accessories. Throughout the year, stock up when the good stuff goes on clearance. Just make sure that you stay within your budget!

ORDER SUPPLIES ONLINE

There is nothing that I despise more than fighting the crowds to go back to school shopping the month before school starts! I’ve got a few tips for you so that you don’t have to worry about this.

ORDER FROM YOUR LOCAL STORES

The best way to avoid crowds is to choose a local store, order your supplies online, and do store pick up. This is such a convenient way to get your school supplies! You don’t have to worry about walking around the store to find everything that you need, you just simply have to drive to the store and pick it up. Here are some stores who offer this:

Don’t forget to use Rakuten (formerly Ebates) when you’re shopping online, even if you’re picking up in store! It’s free to use and you get cash back for shopping. Use my link to get $10 back once you spend your first $25!

Instacart is also a great way to have your groceries delivered to you. It’s so much cheaper to pack lunches rather than buy school lunches. If there’s a way to have healthy food for lunches delivered to my doorstep, I am in!

SHOP STORES ONLINE

If you don’t have the time to leave your house and want the supplies delivered straight to your door, then this option is for you! No worrying about getting the kids loaded into the car just to drive all the way to the store where they don’t have the right kind of pencil no matter how hard you try!

School Shopping Online from Fun Cheap or Free

Amazon and Walmart are my top two stores that I shop online, their prices are so hard to beat. Once again, don’t forget to use Rakuten when you shop online!

KNOW YOUR STORES AND PRICE MATCH

If you do end up going to a physical store, make sure that you know your price per unit and compare it between the stores! Everything is $1 at Dollar Tree. Look at what they offer and compare that price per unit to your other stores. That will let you know if they’re really the best deal or not. And don’t forget to price match! While Walmart is no longer price matching, other stores still are! Best Buy, Target and even Nordstrom will price match, so make sure that you’re getting the best deal when you shop.

BACK TO SCHOOL SHOPPING FOR UNIFORMS

My first and best tip for this is to see if your school has a uniform exchange program. Our school does it and it’s such a great way to save money! Before the school year starts, you gather up all of your gently used uniforms that your kids can no longer wear and take them up to the school. You can then swap them for the sizes that your kids need and donate whatever you don’t need. I have walked away with an entire wardrobe for my kids for free! You can also check your local consignment stores. I’ve been able to find a ton of uniforms in good condition for a fraction of the cost of new ones.

Sometimes there’s just no way around it and you have to buy new uniforms from the store. I recommend that when the back to school sales are going, you buy two different sizes for your kids. Buy half in the size that they’re wearing now, and buy the rest in the next size up. That way when they have a growth spurt in the middle of the year, you’re not scrambling and struggling to find uniforms. The Children's Place is usually very affordable and runs sales on their uniforms often.

BACK TO SCHOOL SHOPPING FOR CLOTHES

However you look at it, if you are buying things when you NEED them, you are forced to pay the going rate, which is always too high. You should never pay full-price for anything!

BUY YOUR CLOTHES EARLY OR LATE

Be patient. Just wait an extra month (ish) and the clothes are bound to go on sale as they clear things out for winter. I know this is hard for teens who want to look super fly the first few weeks of school. Maybe compromise by buying one or two new outfits (trying to use coupons and shop sales if at all possible), but otherwise wait for everything else.

Let Your Kids Shop For Their Clothes from Fun Cheap or Free

Explain to your kids that everyone only has a handful of new outfits. By the end of the first month, everyone will be back to wearing their old stuff. And then your kids will waltz into school like a boss looking hip, new, chic, and oh-so-trendy. BAM. *Enter teenage excitement*

Buy off-season. If your child is old enough for school dances, watch for formal dresses OFF season. The same goes for sporting equipment, winter coats, and even seasonal shoes. Buy them during the opposite season and it will save you a ton.

HAVE YOUR KIDS DO THE SHOPPING

All right all you control freaks out there (don't worry, I'm the president of the Control Freak club) brace yourselves. My best tip for this is to put your kids in charge! You heard me. The BEST way to make your life easier is to give them control and let them learn for themselves. This teaches your kids all the tools they need for adulthood and gets them to appreciate everything that they have.

What’s the best way to give them control? Give them the cash and let them shop! Allow them to buy whatever they want for their school clothes, backpacks, shoes, accessories (anything they wear on their bodies). Here’s how we do it.

  • Set a reasonable budget (see next section for more info).
  • Pull it out of your bank account in cash (for us, this comes out of our Family Checking Account).
  • Give the cash to your child in an envelope.
  • Write the things that they should focus on finding on the envelope. 2 pairs of jeans. 2 pairs of shorts. 6 shirts. 1 sweatshirt. 1 jacket. 2 pairs of shoes. 1 backpack. Give them ideas on how to spend the money. You may have to be more or less specific depending on their age.
  • Drive them to a mall, go grab yourself a smoothie in the food court, and let them go at it. It might be hard to relinquish control, but I promise, it will be one of the greatest lessons they'll ever learn.

KIDS MAKE THE ULTIMATE DECISION

If your kids are too young to shop by themselves or if you haven't taught them how to shop responsibly yet (hurry and get on that, by the way!), then go with them to the stores. But make sure that you let them make the ultimate decisions. Have them make a pile of the clothes they've picked out, tried on, and like, and you guide them on how much to buy. By 8 years old, they should be able to make most of their decisions with some guided help from you. By 12 years old, they should be 100% capable of buying 100% of their own stuff.

You might need to give younger ones a little guidance by saying things like, “Ok great. You like this hoodie? Well, this is $15 which is most of the money you have left. Since you have a hoodie at home, wouldn't you want to look at the t-shirts instead since you still need 3 more of those? No? Ok, well that's your choice.” Ultimately take it child-by-child based on maturity, but allow them the opportunity to take control!

LET THEM LEARN THE HARD WAY

If they lose the money, buy something that doesn't fit, buy things they don't need, blow it all on video games, or buy things that they decide they don't like 1 month later, TOUGH. LUCK. Just say “Oh, well, we'll try again next year.” Don't give in or bail them out!

If they want/need to return something, drive them to the store, park outside, and tell them to have fun. They will NOT get hurt by this experience, and figuring it out on their own will propel them more than you can even imagine! If they lose the receipt and can't return something, tell them to exchange it. Can't exchange it? “Darn, we'll try again next year” or “well, there's always Christmas, maybe you'll get money as your gift then and can use it for more school clothes.”

Kids clothes shopping tips for back to school from Fun Cheap or Free

I promise putting your kids in charge is not mean or cruel in any way. My parents did this to me when I was young. I learned to talk to adults, fractions, to watch prices, to judge quality vs price, to shop sales, the value of stretching my dollar, how to return things, and how to be smart with my money. And I gained a LOT of confidence. While I'm not perfect and still have lots to learn, look where I'm at today. That's gotta say something, right?!

WHAT IS A REASONABLE BUDGET FOR CLOTHES?

Yeesh, this question is tricky. Mostly because it completely depends on your financial situation, and where you live. In Utah, we basically need an entirely separate wardrobe for winter. In California, my husband bought some clothes and was able to wear them all year. For these reasons, I really hate to get too specific, but I also know that's what many of you are desperately wanting (right??). So here you go (and please remember that this is a GENERAL range):

  • $200-$250 for a teenager
  • $100-$200 middle school
  • $75-$150 for elementary

Now, if you shop like I do, then that is more than what I would typically spend. I tend to buy things here and there throughout the year as they go on sale and fit it into my weekly budget. But, those are some guidelines to help, anyway.

WHERE TO GO SHOPPING

Here are JUST A FEW of my go-to places to always find affordable clothing and school items:

  • Don't be afraid to buy used! Kid to Kid, Plato's Closet, Uptown Cheapskate, and Hut no 8 have great consignment clothes, great way to get name-brands for cheap. Most of my wardrobe and my kids' wardrobes are from yard sales (see how to become a Yard Sale Ninja for my tricks).
  • Walmart. Love it or hate it, let's call it like it is. I bought my daughter a full-sized Disney Princess Backpack for $6. SIX DOLLARS! You can't beat that. Their clothes, shoes, hair accessories, and school supplies are also great deals.
  • Target 
  • Amazon. Their prices may or may not be the best. But with Amazon Prime, their 2-day shipping is great for last-minute shopping. And you can find ANYTHING on Amazon, which is great for those who live in smaller cities with few options.
  • The Children's Place. I find great deals there. Be sure to sign up for their emails for great in-store coupons (as explained in my “top 7 sales you should never miss” post)
  • Carter's – also a favorite for younger kids.
  • Forever 21 for your teen (and even Tween) girls (and guys!). 
  • Old Navy – their sales can be fabulous, especially at the outlets.
  • Nordstrom Rack is great for you high-end or name-brand shoppers.

SPACE OUT YOUR BACK TO SCHOOL SHOPPING

Don't let the school fees hit your wallet all at once. Especially when it comes to extracurriculars, school can be very expensive! Here's how to space out all the costs.

PLAN AHEAD

Add up what you paid for school fees, equipment, extra curricular activities, etc. last year (or estimate as best you can for the coming year), divide it by 12 (months in a year), and each month set that amount aside into a bank account for your kids for the next year. I recommend auto-drafting this into your family savings, or into a separate account for your kids.

DON'T BUY NEW EVERY YEAR

Granted, your kids will outgrow shoes and clothes, that's understandable. But there are some things like instruments, sporting equipment, certain school supplies, and even backpacks and accessories (winter coats, too) that you can make last for more than 1 year to space out your dollars a bit.

DON'T FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO BUY EVERYTHING

In high school, my parents let us choose between a yearbook, a letterman's jacket, or a class ring. They said they'd buy ONE for us, and anything else we wanted we had to buy ourselves. Suddenly that jacket wasn't such a priority for me when it was coming from my own wallet. Same with school dances. I had to buy my own dresses and pay for my own dates, but my parents gave me money for pictures (because they wanted copies for themselves). Don't feel like you have to buy everything, because you don't have to!

UTILIZE RESOURCES

Don't reinvent the wheel! There are a BAZILLION websites, articles, blogs (..ahem…like this one…nudge…nudge…) that can help. Use them. For example, this is a great article (and great site in general) to help you find back-to-school freebies, especially for those in a tough financial situation. She also has a great post of the best teacher freebies! She really shows lots of resources that I never knew existed. This is especially helpful for those who are in tough financial situations. Don't feel like you have to do it all on your own. Read her blog and learn ways to help you through this tough time!

USE COUPONS

One great resource that you should always take advantage of? COUPONS. Whether it's for haircuts, clothes, school supplies, or even school uniforms, look for a coupon before buying anything! To find coupons: Check your mail – junk mail might not be junk! Google “coupon for ___” or “coupon code for ___” online before buying. Search stores' websites. For example, if you like to shop at Target, be sure to go online first and print out their coupons.

BUY USED

I'm talking musical instruments, sports equipment, even text books. Buy used when at all possible. Play It Again Sports is a great place to buy and sell gently used sports equipment. I like to check my local classifieds like craigslist.org or Ksl.com for Utah/Idaho. Facebook Marketplace and Buy, Sell, Trade groups are also a great place to find used items.

DO IT YOURSELF

Be creative and DIY when you can. Teacher gifts? Oh, for heaven's sake, PLEASE don't spend an arm and a leg! Trust me, I am 110% the biggest fan ever of teachers. But does that mean you need to run out and spend $25+ per teacher on gifts? Um, no. Get creative, thoughtful, and genuine with teacher gifts, and you will be able to come up with something incredible for very little! I came up with a list of some fun teacher gift ideas that are all unique, adorable, and yes, affordable.

So there you have it! Just remember, you are doing your kids NO favors by giving them everything they want, regardless of their age. I have 6 kids. It's OK to say no to them, even if tantrums insist! Delayed gratification and patience are the two major things our new generations are lacking (my generation included), which has led to the downfall of this economy. Your kids will not DIE if they don't have all the hippest and greatest RIGHT NOW. They won't be shunned at school if they don't have 5 pairs of new shoes. They won't have a harder time making friends if they aren't wearing the nicest brands.

Spoiler alert: making friends is more about personality and kindness than it is about brands and style. Teach your kids to love themselves regardless of the shell they are wearing, and I promise, they WILL get farther in life and WILL be more successful than the rest. Confidence is more valuable than any brand on the market. *Climbing off soapbox* Now, get out there and do some shopping! GOOD LUCK THIS YEAR! You might just need it.

Back to school shopping hacks to save you money from Fun Cheap or Free

Do you have any hacks for back to school shopping on a budget? I'd love to hear them in the comments!

If you want more tips like this, along with learning how to raise financially responsible kids, check out my Budget Bootcamp Program. It's a super fun video program that makes money easy to understand. All you need is a screen and you're set!  

And don't forget, if you don't save AT LEAST what you paid for the program, I'll refund every dime. You've got nothing to lose! Use the code FCFBLOG to get an extra 10% off, because I love you 😉

Want more tips?

Jordan Page Signature from Fun Cheap or Free

Comments

  1. AvatarCourtney says

    Good morning! What do you think of Kohl’s? Whenever I shop there I keep a running total as I go along and always end up paying way less because they always have some extra sale or discount available!

    We went yesterday and got practically entire new wardrobes for two. I used my card (that will be paid off this month bc I budgeted for this :)) and signed up for their new rewards program…ended up saving $700!! Everything we got was on sale then marked down again! It may not be the best deal for stuff that hasn’t been marked down yet, but their sales are on point!

  2. Avataramy says

    Oh my gosh, I could not love this more! You are so right — it’s never a bad time to teach the lesson that material things are not how you measure your worth. We live in a really affluent area so that’s something that I think about a lot. And we’re having financial difficulties right now so it’s not a bad lesson for me, too! 🙂 Thanks — love you!!!!

    • AvatarFunCheapOrFree says

      Thanks for reading and for the sincere comment! Good luck to you with your difficulties. Been there, done that, not fun…but keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be just fine. XO

  3. AvatarMeshawn says

    I’m a teen and am really good when it comes to shopping. My outfits are never over $20 and I usually shop at rainbows, rue21, forever21, and aeropostale. When it comes to shopping my parents are over protective and follow me the whole way and while they respect my style they don’t have the same style. So shopping gets aggravating. How can I convince them to hand me the money and leave me alone in the mall? I’m entering high school and just want some freedom.

    • AvatarFunCheapOrFree says

      Show them this post! Tell them it will save them money, and will teach you how to follow a budget. Make it a “money” and “life lessons” thing, and not a “style” thing and they might be more receptive. Best of luck! XO

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