Back-to-School Budgeting: Tips for Parents

Back-to-School Laura Edgar is a senior writer for, a personal finance website that helps people save money on financial products and everyday purchases.

Parents know all too well that back-to-school season is synonymous with spending money. To some extent, this is inevitable. Kids outgrow their old clothes, backpacks break, and your child’s teacher just might need some extra art supplies. With a little advanced planning and creativity, it’s easy to make back-to-school shopping simple and affordable. In fact, budgeting for back to school is a great opportunity to teach your kids financial literacy basics. Here are some helpful suggestions to help you and your child save money and start the school year off right.

Take inventory before you make your shopping list

Don’t buy anything new before you search your home for items you already have. This will help you avoid “we already had markers” moments when you return from the store. You’ll probably want to enlist your child’s help with this one by having a back-to-school scavenger hunt. After all, they might have some unique insight as to where those missing markers went.

Buy with longevity in mind

The best binders, backpacks and pencil boxes can stand up to years of rough treatment. You’ll have to pay more for them, but if you can afford it, it’s usually worth the cost. Buy durable items like backpacks in a basic style and color, and encourage your child to decorate them with something that isn’t permanent. This way, you won’t have to worry about them outgrowing the “coolness” of their school supplies. They can buy trendy (and recyclable) folders and notebooks to go with their binder, for example, or a cool keychain for their backpack.

Handle your child’s requests appropriately

Is your child shopping with you? We can pretty much guarantee that they will want an item (or 10) that’s not on your shopping list once you enter the store, thanks to the power of advertising. To avoid arguments, talk about what you’ll purchase before you leave the house, and establish some ground rules. Allow your child to pick out one extra item (within reason), or let them buy something with their own money. Whatever you decide, stick with your plan.

Look for deals in stores and online

Looking to save a few bucks on paper and pencils? Most people are better off making the trip to their local office supply store. Unless you also find a great deal on shipping, your online savings won’t amount to much. However, if you’re buying a desk, a backpack, or another major item, you may be able to save money buying it online and using a back-to-school coupon. All major office supply stores (and websites) have back-to-school sales in August, so if you’re looking for sweet deals on common items, you’re bound to find them all over the place.

Consider buying used gear

Buying used clothes, books and toys is a great way to save money and save the environment. If you’re not the sort of person who enjoys the thrift shop and the used bookstore, you can still find creative ways to get great, used gear for your kids. New books are expensive, so it’s worth searching for used books online at or a similar site, or checking them out at your local library for free. Need new clothes for your kids? Consider hosting a clothing swap with other local parents. You can also purchase quality used clothing online through sites like thredUP, and even sell clothes too.


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