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Tips for Saving when Back to School Shopping


Back-to-school season is right around the corner – first day begins August 8 in Birmingham — and it is a time when many parents are left scrambling to buy classroom supplies and an updated wardrobe for a growing kid, while also paying registration and sports fees. In addition, the state of the current economic climate has parents looking for deals and ways to stretch a dollar as far as it can go on supplies.

University of Alabama at Birmingham Regions Institute for Financial Education Director Stephanie Yates, Ph.D., provides insight into how parents can use budgeting to plan and save on back-to-school items this fall.

According to Yates, chair of the UAB Department of Accounting and Finance, back-to-school shopping can be burdensome for many families who do not have the funds to spend a lot at one time.

“That’s why budgeting is key to shopping smart and saving as much as possible,” Yates said. “Families who prepare and are knowledgeable about sales and different offers out there really benefit from the budget processing.”

For example, she said, “A big mistake parents make is to look at this shopping event as strictly back-to-school and not as the entire school year. Your family will likely run out of school supplies, and this may be the only time of year they are on sale, so you should stock up now if you can.”

Yates offers five tips to stay within a back-to-school budget:

Create an estimated cost list. Look at your student’s school supplies list, estimate the total costs of basic purchases, and set aside funds for your shopping trip. Determine how many of each item your student will need so that you do not end up overbuying items and stocking up on supplies that will never get used.

Know all your options. Not every deal is found at a big box store. Thrift stores are priced low, and many offer additional discounts. Auction websites are another platform that often offers lower prices on new and used items. If your child wears a uniform, check with your school to see if they re-sell previously worn uniforms.

Look online first. Shopping online can be convenient for the busy parent or college student who does not want to make a few extra trips to the store, and it is a great way to compare prices and find coupon codes. Consider the cost of shipping and taxes when making higher-priced purchases. Also check the return policy in case you do not really need something or end up having to buy a different style, brand or item. Look for the option of buying online and picking up at your local store to avoid shipping fees.

Shop with a gift card. A major benefit to using a gift card is that it can be used online and in the store. Perhaps even more important is that it forces you to stick to a set budget because you will not be able to buy anything once the allotted dollar figure once the card runs out.

Take advantage of community resources. Rising prices make budgeting even more important now than ever, and one thing that may be useful for those who are really feeling the pinch is to look for school supply drives. Many agencies are providing school supplies for needy families, including groups like local police departments or churches. Families in need can contact their school and/or community organization for suggestions on agencies that may have extra supplies or drives to shop from. Even then, having an itemized list might be helpful. If you know you need three backpacks and six binders, it might be easier for your school or school district to point you toward someone who can help.