Back to school shopping tipsIt is that time again folks!  Back to school shopping season is here.  For those who don’t know about this mini US holiday, online and offline retailers go into deep discount mode to get people into their stores.  They offer doorbuster deals just like Black Friday and are ready to give away the farm. This is the start to their holiday shopping season kickoff.  You are probably thinking “how is August the start of the holiday shopping season?”  Well, this is when retailers can get a taste of what shoppers are looking for and how much they are willing to spend.  According the the National Retail Federation, back to school spending is expected to hit $26.5 billion this year.   Yes, that is BILLION!  In the spirit of this unofficial shopping holiday, I figured I would share some ways to save when back to school shopping.

Compare Those Prices

As my business partner, Kim from Eyes on the Dollar, indicated earlier this week, you really should compare your prices before you buy.  She compared the most basic school supplies between Amazon and Walmart.  Well, depending on what you are buying will depend on where you buy. Amazon wins for bigger items and many electronics, but Walmart wins for the school necessities.  They both offer free shipping on most products as well.

With the help of smartphones, you can easily compare prices before you go to the checkout lane.  Make sure you are getting the best deal possible and don’t be afraid to ask for a price match. Many of the larger retailers do this.

If you are shopping on Amazon, make sure you checkout’s new tool called PriceJump.  It will tell you if you are paying the best price on Amazon for any item.

Look for Coupons Before You Buy

I have always been a fan of coupons, either online coupons or printed. It doesn’t matter. Though I am no extreme coupon clipper, I do think they have a great place in shopping. Many retailers have coupons and they will give you some savings on top of sales.  This is not always the case, but sometimes I just ask and it works.  When I shop online for my stuff, I always head to a coupon site to make sure I can get the best deal.  This has never failed me.

If you are shopping in a store, make sure you check your local paper or see if the store has a handout when you arrive. Many just stock their little sale handouts right by the front door.  You should never buy something without looking for a coupon.  You can look out my coupon page for applicable online coupons or you can go to your favorite site.

Shop and Get Cash Back

Who doesn’t love cash back?  No seriously, who doesn’t love it?  I have never met anyone so far who hasn’t loved earning some cash back on their purchases.  There are really two ways to earn cash back and I like to combine them when shopping online.  If you are just shopping at a store, then you really only have one way to earn cash back.  Let’s talk about both.


  • Cash Back via Credit Cards – There are a number of cash back credit cards which earn you a specified amount for your purchases.  The Discover it® card gives you 1% back on everything.  The Capital One Quicksilver gives you 1.5% back. While these amounts might not be huge, they are money back. If you plan on spending big money this back to school season, why not earn money back?
  • Cash Back via Shopping Portals – I have written a review on one of the cash back sites, called Ebates.  This and many others provide you with a great chance to earn money back when you shop online.  You can earn upwards of 20% back depending on the store.  The best part is these places are free to sign up and participate.  I typically go through either my Ebates or Upromise account before I go shopping anywhere online.  I have most of the cash back sites listed in my resources as well.


Don’t Be Afraid to Go Used

Clothing is probably one of the top things kids/teens/college students need to get for school.  We all need clothes for school, right?  While they might love the idea of getting new clothes, do you need to actually buy them new?  I know, used clothes are so blah!  The horror of arriving at school in some used clothes.  Just nasty…

OK, get off your damn high horse and take you kid to a freaking consignment shop.  There are some good ones out there which only carry brand name items at a much lower cost.  Stores like Plato’s closet only take gently used clothing items and resell them back at a much lower cost.  These are the popular clothing brands all of which kids love to wear.  I have no relationship with this company, but I do think they provide a good service. You can see if there is a store near you.

You can also look for gently used backpacks and other school supplies. There are ways to get great deals at yard sales and even Craigslist.  Check out to see if there is a FreeCycle group near you. These groups “recycle” stuff to each other for free.  You never know what you might find.

Create a List and Stick With It

Shopping with a list anywhere is a good thing to do. No matter if you are grocery shopping or back to school shopping. Lists save you money and you can’t really deny that.  Most schools or teachers try to provide a list of necessities you might need for the upcoming school year.  Go through that list and see what is really needed and what might just be a suggestion.  Just because it is on their list doesn’t mean you have to buy it.

Once you weed out the unnecessary junk, then start making your list.  Take your time to find out everything you need.  This will help you budget and come up with a shopping game plan.  Remember, the less time you take in a store, the less money you will spend.  You instantly take out the threat of window shopping when you have a plan.  Your list is what you follow and that is all.  I highly recommend lists when you are back to school shopping.

For Your Viewing Pleasure

OK, now that I have given you some simple back to school shopping tips, here are some cool facts about back to school shopping.  This infographic was created by the National Retail Federation and I liked it, so I wanted to end this article with a great visual. Enjoy!

2014 Back to School Shopping Infographic



Great, you made it to the bottom!  What would be your best back to school shopping tip?

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  1. Man, that is a staggering number. My tip…don’t give into the hype and buy used where you can. I remember when I was growing up my parents went all out on the spending for back to school. While I do certainly appreciate the care, you can still get everything you need without spending a boatload of money.

  2. I think I got all of my son’s supplies for un 25bucks. You just have to look for the stores that have the sales 🙂 Great advice!

  3. I hate shopping for anything with the masses, whether it’s back to school, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc. If it was up to me, we’d all forget gift giving occasions altogether and take an awesome trip instead, but that’s just me. Can’t avoid school supplies though, so I bought on Amazon and some stuff at Target. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy Walmart, even though I was right in the store and it would have been easy.

  4. I think John’s right: way too many people give into the hype and spend more than they have/need to on back to school. Do your kids a favor, tone it down, and put that extra cash into their college funds.

  5. These are great tips. My wife and I do a lot of online shopping for back to school. We also buy out of season, instead of waiting until back to school time. Another great thing we have found is online swap shops, like the ones of Facebook. Some people have been giving school supplies away of those local swap shops.

  6. These are some great tips, especially about checking out consignment and resale shops for clothes. I love Plato’s closet. They have great deals on name brand stuff. I do use most of these tips for regular everyday shopping too.

  7. The problem with comparing prices is that you’ll find some things cheaper at one store, some at another, and some online. You’ll likely waste the savings in Gas by traveling to the different retailers. This year, I did a comparison of the whole bundle of school supplies online, then traveled to the one retailer that had the lowest total.

    1. While I would agree with you if you are comparing prices on the fly, you can certainly do what you indicated and compare online and then go. Most stores will also price match, so if you have a lower price, just show it to them to see if they will match. Then you can get it all done. I wouldn’t price compare on the fly when you are purchasing a lot of stuff.

  8. In-store shopping during the back-to-school rush is geared towards impulse buying and putting the unnecessary in the cart. Have a specific list of what is needed prior to beginning your shopping. Sign-up for newsletters for coupons from stores you shop with. The Sunday newspaper is still a very good source of manufacturer’s coupons. Pay with cash instead of debit card or check.

    1. Hey Kim,

      You are absolutely right, prior list can save bunch of minutes for other tasks.