Back to School Shopping on a Budget…But Not The Way You Might Think!

How to afford everything you need for back to school...and probably not how you might think! From

I did a TV segment for Studio 5 the other day, teaching you all how to get everything you need for back to school without breaking the break! …but it's probably not what you think. 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, and show you how to make it 1) fit into your budget, 2) less stressful, and 3) 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!

(see the original post HERE)

back to school

It's the 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, and how in the world to be able to AFFORD all those fees and expenses!

This all started when I got a great question from a fabulous reader on Facebook:

“Well, its that time of year! Second most expensive to Christmas, what is it you ask? Back to school! Between clothes for 3 in school children, two where it actually matters what they wear (phhfft) and Jr High fees, this momma is broke! So I thought, there has to be a way to get great deals on school supplies, clothing, shoes etc! Anyone want to share any tips, coupon codes, etc? Remember, I have a teenage girl (eeeeeeeek!) Jordan Page, do you have a post on this topic?”

Pretty darn good question, right?! To help, here are 4 simple rules to help you not go broke from back-to-school shopping this year:

RULE #1: Buy early…or late.


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. (Remember my FACT's, you should never pay full-price for anything!). Here's how buying early and/or late can save you a TON of cash:

  • 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, accessories, and maybe even winter gear and coats. Throughout the year, stock up when the good stuff goes on clearance. See how I shop sales for ideas.
  • 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.
    • 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. Sporting equipment, winter coats, and even seasonal shoes…buy them during the opposite season and it will save you a ton.

RULE #2: Have your KIDS do the shopping.

  • All right all you control freaks out there (don't worry, I'm president of the Control Freak club…) brace yourselves. The next rule is…Put your kids in charge! You heard me. The BEST way to make your life easier, teach your kids all the tools they need for adulthood, and to get them to appreciate everything they have is…give them control and let them learn for themselves.
  • 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.

Here's how to do it:

    • Set a reasonable budget (see next section for more info).
    • 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 or whatever. Just 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 (or a stiff drink 😉 in the food court, andlet 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.
      • 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 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. Younger than 8, just use your discretion (next point will help).
      • 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!
    • 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. Don't bail them out. Don't give them more money. Don't return the items for them and buy better things.
    • 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.”
    • This money should go toward everything except for school supplies. Paper, pens, pencils, notebooks, school fees are all separate expenses (sorry parents!). But backpacks, shoes, accessories (anything they wear on their bodies) – that cash needs to cover it!

So…how much do I spend?

  • What is a reasonable budget? 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):
    • I would think roughly $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, because I tend to buy things here and there throughout the year as they go on sale and fit it into my weekly budget. BUT…there are some guidelines to help, anyway 🙂

Once again, 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. I learned fractions. I learned to watch prices. I learned to judge quality vs price. I learned to shop sales. I learned the value of stretching my dollar. I learned how to return things. I learned 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?!

Where to shop:

Here are JUST A FEW of my go-to places to always find affordable clothing and school items: (see “how to shop sales” for how to get the best deals wherever you shop:)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Forever 21 for your teen (and even Tween) girls (and guys!). GREAT place for affordable accessories, my favorite $7 skinnies (that I wear, basic under shirts and tank tops, etc.
  • Old Navy – their sales can be fabulous, especially at the outlets.
  • Nordstrom Rack is great for you high-end or name-brand shoppers.

RULE #3: Space it out. 


Don't let the school fees hit your wallet all at once. Especially when it comes to extra-curriculars, 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.
  • Try not to buy everything NEW, every year. Granted, your kids will outgrow shoes and clothes, that's understandable. But instruments, sporting equipment, certain school supplies, and even backpacks and accessories (winter coats too)…try to make things 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 year book, 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!


RULE #4: Utilize resources.

Don't reinvent the wheel! There are a BAZILLION websites, articles, blogs (..he'em…like this one…nudge…nudge…) that can help. Use them. (Sounds vaguely familiar to my “T” in my F.A.C.T's, right? Take advantage? Interesting…)

  • 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!
  • 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. Musical instruments, sports equipment, even text books. Buy used when at all possible. I like to check my local classifieds like or for Utah/Idaho.
  • 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! This article gives 25 DIY teacher gifts 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. My children are 4, 3, and 1. 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 soap box*
Now, get out there and do some shopping! …and GOOD LUCK THIS YEAR!…you might just need it,



  1. 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. 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!!!!

    • 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. 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.

    • 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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