Published On: Wed, Sep 30th, 2020

Money-Saving Tips To Help the Back-To-School Rush

While the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, it seems that in many states and districts, we’ll be seeing more and more schools opening this fall.

In some ways, it will bring relief to frustrated parents who’ve had to home-school their kids over the past few months. It’ll also mean that for thousands of parents, especially single parents, ditching the babysitter and having school lunches return. This will provide some financial ease in the short-term. 

Although in other ways, there is a very real fear that the virus will make its way into our homes as student gatherings mean the chances of spread increase.

Schools are, however, opting for a myriad of ways to ease into reopening. In Charlottesville, Virginia, for example, the public-school district has decided to alternate attendance; half the student population will attend on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays (Fridays have been set aside for class preparation and sanitization). 

In the Baltimore area, classes remain largely online until the end of January. Thereafter, a staggered opening approach is a likely route. Even across the pond, in many places worldwide, the trend seems to be that educators are opting for remote instruction. 

Either way, one thing remains the same — back-to-school supplies mean even further financial strain.

In any normal year, back-to-school shopping is a wallet-thumping exercise. But, 2020 is certainly not a normal year. For many of us, before even making it to the stationery shelves this year, we’ll be staring at already dried up savings and searching for those last few pennies that somehow always end up at the bottom of our bag, purse, or pocketbook (sheesh)!

Therefore, I thought it’d be good to investigate some back-to-school money-saving tips that might just help ease things. Whether you’re desperate for cash, or would perhaps just like to be a little more frugal this year, just in case, I’ve managed to find some really neat ideas to tackle the toll. After checking in with some thrifty moms and finance gurus (and our girl here at FrugalForLess), here are my top tips:

photo/ svklimkin

1. Take stock of last year’s supplies

It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it), that despite the temptation to purchase everything new, many of the supplies you’ll need to buy are already in your home or work environment. 

For example, your child may be able to reuse some of last semester’s supplies such as backpacks, pens, pencils, notebooks, lunch boxes, binders, and, in some cases, even uniforms, sports clothes, or school wear.

That’s the easy part though. Another idea is to check if your office or workplace has any supplies that they’re getting rid of or would be willing to part with. As a stationery hoarder myself, I have collected five (yup, five) staplers over the years that sit at the end of my work desk, waiting for another to arrive (no judgment, please).

It’s also a good idea to carefully dissect your school’s recommended back-to-school supplies list to see if there aren’t perhaps ‘luxury’ items (such as labels, punches, and tissues) that you could hold off on until schools reopen to see if your child will actually need them. This one is tricky because if you wait too long, some of the must-have items may be out of stock, so be sure to purchase all the essentials up front.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help — some schools have programs in place to help with technology needs for remote learning. Neighbors are also a good place to turn if you know they have kids a couple of years older than your own. It’s often just a case of asking. 

Another subtler way to do this is to put together an Amazon wish list of back-to-school supplies that you still need. That way, you can share the link with others who can then decide which of the items they want (or can afford) to buy for you. Think of it as your “back-to-school gift registry”!

2. The freebies (or close-to-freebies)

The first stop would be to check with your school or district to see if they are offering any free materials at the start of the semester. If not, don’t worry, there are other freebies you might not have thought of.

If you have a credit card, have a look to see whether you have any cash-back rewards or automatic coupons that you could apply toward back-to-school purchases. 

Even if you don’t, it might not be a bad idea to put this year’s purchases on your credit card — you might be able to reap some rewards next year. 

As a side note, make sure you can pay off the minimums each cycle, as interest can mean you’re worse off than when you started.

3. Getting thrifty

Ok, so you’ve put together the list of must-haves that you absolutely need to purchase from the back-to-school shopping list. Here comes the really nifty bit — getting thrifty. 

First up, be on the lookout for your state’s tax-free season. Sixteen states are having sales tax holidays, and most of them will last for a full weekend during August 2020.

For items that you don’t intend on buying right now, but will need to as the semester rolls on, remember that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are great money-savers. 

On these days, retailers offer massive deals on tech and electronics (and many other items). Though, it’s still a while off (November 27 through November 30), so make sure you won’t need the items right away. 

Ok, back to friends and family (and neighbors). Get together and share your back-to-school shopping list and see which of the items you all need to buy. Chances are that your child will need similar supplies as other kids. 


By teaming up with other parents, you can buy several items (pens, pencils, sanitizers, notebooks — you name it) in bulk at big box stores like Wal-Mart and Costco, which could mean you’ll make some significant savings. 

Personal finances expert at NerdWallet, Kimberly Palmer, explains that “Some communities are forming ‘pandemic pods’ to share the burden of teaching at home and keep kids socialized — pooling school supplies across the pod can spread the expenses and make them more manageable.”

For Android users, another useful little tip is to download apps like Google Shopper to scan barcodes while you shop, and find great deals at nearby stores.

It’s also a good idea to compare prices on items found at multiple stores. This is perhaps not needed for low-cost items, but for big-ticket and more expensive items like clothing or technology, you can often get away with asking a retailer to match the lowest price. 

It’s a good idea to hop on the retailer’s website to view their price matching policies. Many retailers will even go so far as to refund the price difference if you can spot a lower price elsewhere (cha-ching).

Perhaps now more than ever, thrift stores and second-hand sites like Poshmark, threadUp, eBay, or other consignment stores are going to be extremely useful sources for clothing and other tech-related back-to-school needs. If your child is an athlete or plays an instrument, Sideline Swap and Music Go Round are additional options that may help to stretch your budget. 

Remember, there’s no shame in buying second hand. It’s not only smart for your wallet but for the environment too (Psst … the dollar store is another great place to find incredible bargains on back-to-school supplies).

I’ve put together a list of a few other options for second-hand thrifting below:

  • Patagonia Worn Wear,
  • Depop
  • Kid to Kid
  • Buffalo Exchange
  • 2ndSTREET
  • Etsy
  • ASOS Marketplace
  • swap.com
  • Goodwill
  • And for the guys, Grailed

We cannot forget about our heroes, the teachers! If you’re a teacher, things can get expensive quickly. 

Check out Treasures 4 Teachers and Adopt a Classroom as well as this list put together by RetailMeNot for over 40 discounts aimed at helping teachers lower their teaching budgets.

Finally, don’t forget about coupons! You typically find them through social media, QR codes, and text coupons.

If you have any other shopping hacks that you’d like to share, leave some suggestions in the comments below. Happy shopping!

Author: Doreen Jacobs

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