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How to Save on Back-to-School Supplies

From making a list and renting (instead of buying) to repurposing and deal-seeking, there are ways to stay on budget when acquiring back-to-school supplies.

Written by Linda Childers / September 6, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Before spending big, ask teachers for a list of necessary supplies and see what you can repurpose.
  • Deals and discounts can be found online and in stores, particularly after the back-to-school rush has slowed.
  • Consider ways to trim spending on the three most expensive back-to-school categories: textbooks, musical instruments and electronics.

As the days shorten and the weather cools, students across the country return to the classroom. While the beginning of a new school year can be a bittersweet time for families, it can also be a costly one.

“The average American household is already spending nearly $500 more per month on basic necessities,” says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch, who frequently offers budgeting advice on national network shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show. “Finding extra cash to pay for school supplies, clothing and tech may seem impossible.”

The good news is there are ways to ensure your student has everything they need for their next school year without breaking the bank. Read on to learn how to save.

Inside this article

  1. List necessary supplies
  2. Look for deals online and off
  3. Seek textbook savings
  4. Pay less for musical instruments
  5. Research deals on electronics

List necessary supplies

“The number one question I hear from students on the first day of school is, ‘What do I need for this class?” says Jackie Gontarek, a high school teacher in Southeastern Pennsylvania. “I tell them the most important things to bring to class are a bunch of pencils, a folder and the willingness to work harder than they did last year.”

Gontarek also cautions families to hold off on shopping until their child’s teacher tells them specifically what supplies are needed.

“When my own kids were younger, they were so eager to get new school supplies, we often bought more than we needed,” she says. 

Alexia Pappas, a second-grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada, includes a list of classroom essentials and sends it home with students on the first day of school. 

While sending your children to school with notebook paper, pencils and a binder makes sense, families can usually hold off on costlier items such as electronics and calculators.

“Buying school supplies in the weeks after school starts can save money because that’s when stores begin to discount back-to-school supplies,” Pappas says.

How is inflation affecting back-to-school shopping?

  • A 2022 Deloitte Back-to-School survey found that 57% of families are concerned about inflation driving up costs for school supplies.[1] 

  • Despite an anticipated increase in prices, the Deloitte survey reported that 37% of parents plan to spend more on school supplies than last year, amounting to $661 per child, versus $612 in 2021.

  • According to a new survey from JLL Retail Research, nearly 60% of back-to-school shoppers say they’re looking for sales, coupons and deals.[2]

  • A survey conducted by Morning Consult found 36% of U.S. parents surveyed say they can afford their children’s back-to-school shopping expenses, down from 52% from last year.[3]

Look for deals online and in stores

Once you have your list in hand, you can head online or to your local stores to shop. While Target and Walmart both have aisles of school supplies, don’t forget discount stores such as Dollar Tree, Dollar Store and Five Below, where you can buy pencils, crayons, and more at heavily discounted prices. Office stores such as Staples and Office Depot are also good places to secure discounts.

Woroch recommends buying store brands whenever possible to save.

“Another way to save is to split bulk purchases with other parents,” she says. “By doing this, you snag cheaper per unit prices without having to spend more upfront to get the deal.”

Seek out savings on costly textbooks

College textbooks can be expensive, costing an average of $105.37 per book.[1] Fortunately, students can obtain good deals by purchasing used books, renting textbooks or using e-books.

Campusbooks searches multiple sites for the best price on textbooks available to purchase or rent. In addition, their Buy vs. Rent tool compares buying a specific textbook versus renting to determine which option is more cost-effective.

On Chegg, students can buy or rent textbooks and receive savings up to 90%. The company also offers a 21-day risk free return in the event a student decides to drop a class. Students receive a prepaid shipping label when they rent a book, to make returns easier.  

Tip

If you purchase used or new textbooks, remember to sell them at the end of the school year. Many websites, such as BookFinder and BookScouter, allow you to enter a textbook’s ISBN to quickly determine its resale value. They might even provide a prepaid shipping label.

Spend less for musical instruments

If your child is planning to take a music class or be in the school band, you have the option of renting or purchasing a musical instrument for them to use. Renting is a more cost-effective option if your student is just starting out since the cost also typically covers insurance and minor repairs. In addition, some companies offer a rental exchange option where students can swap the instrument for one of equal or greater value throughout the life of the rental agreement. This saves money in the event your child outgrows the instrument or decides to switch to playing the trombone instead of a flute. As an example, RentMyInstrument offers instrument rentals starting at $25 a month with month-to-month plans and no long-term contracts.

On the other hand, if your student has been playing a specific instrument for several years and plans to continue playing it through school, purchasing could make sense. Many music stores sell refurbished instruments at discounted prices, as well as those that have been slightly scratched or dented, plus “open box” instruments that have been returned but not used. Also, check sites such as eBay and Nextdoor, for used musical instruments.

Research discounts on electronics

If your child needs a laptop, cell phone or tablet, Woroch recommends checking for deals on refurbished electronics at sites such as eBay’s refurbished category, Amazon’s renewed products and Best Buy’s open-box deals.

For students that need a graphing calculator, math4sale sells refurbished calculators, with a one-year warranty, at 30% off retail. 

Refurbished products are gently used devices that come with a warranty. Open-box items are devices that were purchased but returned to the store before being used.

Tip

Rather than spending hours online searching for the best deals, or going from store to store, download an app that can help you save time while also scoring savings. Bonus: Many of these apps also offer cash back on purchases. For example, RetailMeNot offers online coupon codes and cashback on online purchases made at many stores including Target, Office Depot, Staples, and Walmart.

Article Sources
  1. Deloitte, “2022 Deloitte back-to-school survey,” https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/retail-distribution/back-to-school-survey.html.
  2. Keisha Virtue, “2022 Back to School report,” Jones Lang LaSalle IP, Inc., July 20, 2022, https://www.us.jll.com/en/trends-and-insights/research/back-to-school-2022.
  3. Morning Consult, “Back-to-school Shopping 2022,” https://go.morningconsult.com/2022-07-PG8141A1-Back-To-School-Shopping-2022-Download.html.
  4. Melanie Hanson, “Average Cost of College Textbooks,” Education Data Initiative, July 15, 2022, https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-college-textbooks.

About the Author

Photo of Linda Childers

Linda Childers

Linda’s articles on healthcare costs and Medicare have appeared in Forbes and MedicareGuide. She has also written on healthcare topics for Arthritis Today, California Health Report, Allure, Health Monitor, US News and World Report, O, The Washington Post and many corporate blogs.

Full bio

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