Five Ways to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Make a budget and stick to it when spending on your kids' back-to-school supplies.

Back-to-school prep with father and daughter at home
(Image credit: Getty Images)

With back-to-school shopping season in full swing, concerns on how to afford clothing and educational supplies are increasing, especially as core inflation remains stubbornly elevated. Back-to-school consumer spending is expected to reach a record $41.5 billion, up from $36.9 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) latest Back-to-School Survey. The average family with children in grades K-12 will spend about $890 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, surpassing the previous high of $864. 

NRF reports that the spending boost is largely driven by increased electronics demand. A record 69% of back-to-school shoppers plan to buy electronics or computer accessories this year, a 4% increase from 2022.

Back-to-school spending chart

(Image credit: National Retail Foundation)

With ever-rising costs weighing on family budgets, here are some tips to save at this pricey time of year:

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1) Purge the Closet

Kids grow like weeds. A pair of shoes bought just a month ago might no longer fit. Rummage through clothing to see what fits and what is in good condition. Hang onto what you can to pass on to younger siblings, friends or Goodwill. Everything else can be tossed or recycled for a craft project. Talk to your children to make decisions about what they could reuse. This encourages a youngster to think creatively about how to make things last and not waste.

For supplies, look at what the child has from the previous school year. Do you have unused glue, paper and folders that are in good shape? Reuse them or, if there is another child in the household, give them the materials.

2) Make a Budget

Kids need limits, especially financial limits. Sit down with a child and discuss how much can be spent on clothing, supplies and miscellaneous items such as a laptop or high-tech gadget for class. Ask the child to come up with ways to stretch a buck or contribute to the fund.

If the child is older and wants an expensive pair of shoes, offer to pay for half and have him or her come up with the rest. This kind of conversation can be part of a bigger push to teach kids good money habits. An extra benefit: This gives them practice to earn that A in math.

3) Hit the Thrift Stores

Kids today love a good "throwback" and enjoy finding cool retro items from Goodwill stores or rummage sales. Perhaps as guardian or parent, you may have some items in storage that would appeal to the kids in the household. Grandpa's vintage jean jacket from 1960 might look awesome to a teen on the first day of school.

4) Check Online and on Social Media

Surf the web with your child and see if stores such as Target, Walmart, Office Max, etc. are offering deals via their Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other social media accounts. Many stores post on upcoming sales targeting back-to-school shoppers. Also look up sites such as or for cheaper versions of higher-end items. Consider it virtual rummage sale shopping.

5) Next Year, Start Early

Back to school time is a rush of papers, book bags and clothing flying off the racks and shelves. Next year, think about starting shopping around March and buying certain items such as winter clothing ahead of time when they're on clearance. While everyone else is thinking spring, you will be a savvy shopper thinking about scoring a decent deal on boots for someone in the family.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Marguerita M. Cheng, CFP®
CEO, Blue Ocean Global Wealth

Marguerita M. Cheng is the Chief Executive Officer at Blue Ocean Global Wealth. She is a CFP® professional, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠ and a Retirement Income Certified Professional. She helps educate the public, policymakers and media about the benefits of competent, ethical financial planning.

With contributions from
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