Summer is ending soon and it’s almost time to send the kiddos back to school. Can you believe it?!
Kids grow so fast. Time seems to fly these days. And back to school shopping lists just get bigger and bigger every year—especially when you have more than one kid in school.
So if you’re on a budget, like many moms are, this time of year can also be extremely stressful. Because as moms, we want the best for our kids.
But you don’t want to go broke making sure they have everything they need in the process!
Today, I’m sharing my favorite frugal back to school shopping tips. I want to help you cross off every item on your shopping list at a fraction of the cost!
#1 Know what you can afford to spend
It’s never a good idea just to pick a number out of a hat. You need a budget. Because without a budget, you’re not going to know how much money you can afford to spend on back to school shopping. So sit down and do this first.
(If you need help making a budget and you live on one income, follow these easy step by step instructions here.)
Once you know this number, you’ll need to decide how much money you’re going to spend on new clothes and school supplies.
For instance, let’s say I have a budget of $150 per kid for all of my back to school shopping. I will budget $100 for clothes and $50 for supplies—it’s that simple!
NOTE: It’s a good idea to allocate more money for kid’s clothes because it will cost you more than the school supplies.
#2 Take inventory of what you already have
I LOVE to raid my kids’ closets at the start of every new season. Why? It’s so much fun finding stuff I can sell (see Tip #3), stuff I can donate (or keep for my younger kids hand-me-down bins), and stuff I can toss. So the start of a new school year is a great time to clean up house too!
Plus, when you know what’s in your kids’ closets you won’t be wasting money buying more “stuff” they don’t need.
Grab a pen and paper to make note of items they can’t fit anymore so you can stock up for the new year. And don’t forget about things like socks and undergarments.
I don’t recommend you go out buying a whole bunch of summer clothes either. I know it’s tempting because of all the end-of-season sales, but if you just can’t help yourself, try to grab a few items your child can wear now or this time NEXT year.
#3 Sell back old kids stuff
After raiding your kid’s closet, you’re going to find some items that are too decent to toss, but pointless to hang onto. So the best way to help you offset the cost of buying your kids new clothes and shoes this year is to sell back their old stuff they can’t fit for extra cash!
You can try selling your kids old stuff to local consignment shops like Once Upon A Child, on Facebook Marketplace, and apps like LetGo or OfferUp for quick cash. Because there are TONS of parents on a budget for back to school are looking for your kid’s stuff—trust me!
#4 Know what supplies you need to buy
Now that you know what clothing items your child needs, the next thing you’ll need to know is what school supplies to buy. You can get this information by checking your child’s school website for a school supply list.
Most schools will have their supply list available as a PDF so you can easily print it out and take it with you when you go shopping.
Just be careful to grab the correct supply list for your child’s grade level because each list will be different. (So you don’t want to be buying a ruler for a Kindergartner if he’s not going to need it.)
#5 Start shopping early
I know, I know. Telling you to start early on back to school shopping is like telling you to start early on Christmas shopping—it’s not gonna happen.
I get it.
But if you’re not going to start shopping for back to school in advance because you’re busy with summer fun, then you need to at least be saving for your back to school shopping now. That way you don’t get behind on your bills or into more debt because you’re spending money you don’t have.
So to help ease the pain on your wallet, you should either start your school shopping 4-6 weeks early OR budget for back to school shopping 6-8 weeks before school starts (if you prefer to get it all done at once and not stress about money).
#6 Split up your shopping
Another way you can easily start your back to school shopping early is to split up your purchases! Because you don’t have to buy everything at once.
And since I like to budget by payday every two weeks, I prefer not to do all of my shopping at the same time either. For instance, I’ll start raiding my son’s closet in April and sell back any old summer clothes and shoes. Then we buy him new school clothes in July and wait until August to snag the school supply deals.
But by all means, do whatever works best for your budget. Whether that’s buying things a little at a time or keeping your back to school clothes and supply shopping separate to take it easy on your bank account.
#7 Shop secondhand first
Want to dress your kids in name brands, but don’t want to pay retail prices? You can often find kids brands like Gap, The Children’s Place, Gymboree, Nike, and more for really cheap at secondhand stores!
My favorite places to find gems like these are at secondhand kids and thrift stores in suburban neighborhoods. I can’t tell you how many times I have found Nike shirts for $5 or Gap jeans for $8—it feels like Christmas!
So the only name brands my kids wear are from secondhand clothing stores because I’m too frugal to pay $20 for a brand new pair of toddler jeans.
(Note: You can buy secondhand uniforms too!)
#8 Ask family and friends to help out
If money is really tight for you around this time of year, it doesn’t hurt to ask your friends and family pitch in. You can involve aunts, uncles, grandparents, Godparents, and your closest friends to help out by buying or collecting school supplies and even gift cards for clothes.
My aunt purchased my son’s school supplies two years in a row and I never asked her to! But the fact that she did, relieved us a lot because all we had to do was buy him new school uniforms.
#9 Take advantage of the tax-free holiday weekend
Tax-free holidays are becoming more popular to help you save even more money on back to school shopping. So unless you live in a state that already gives you a tax-break, you NEED to take full advantage when the holiday happens.
Because waiting to do your back to school shopping during the tax-free weekend can save you big bucks (depending on how much you spend). And this is the ONLY time I’d say it is okay to buy everything you need at once—as long as you can afford it.
#10 Avoid dollar stores (sort of)
Here’s the thing: we all know you can save money buying school supplies from dollar stores. But the gag is, you could actually end up spending a few pennies more if your timing isn’t right.
For instance, if you’re shopping last minute for school supplies, you’re better off avoiding dollar stores altogether. Because you can typically find the same school supplies (like folders, pencil boxes, crayons, etc) for under $1 during all the back to school sales at almost ANY store!
That’s why shopping at dollar stores for your school supplies works best before (like in July) and after the back to school rush (like in September).
Are you ready to tackle your back to school shopping for less?
Whether you’re living paycheck to paycheck or rolling in dough, back to school shopping isn’t cheap or fun. But when you have a plan and a budget for back to school, it helps to eliminate some of the overwhelm that comes with it.
How are you preparing to save money on back to school?