Back to School Shopping Tips

I know. You don’t want to think about back to school while you’re enjoying these beautiful summer days. But it’s right around the corner (for some of you, even sooner than others!). So here are some of our back to school shopping tips coming from a Mom and a Meemaw who are both teachers (Meemaw is retired).

These tips can save you some time, money, and frustration. And because we’re thinking about it now, we don’t have to have that last minute back-to-school panic!

Back to School Shopping Tips

Back to School Shopping Tips

First things first, my number one tip is to start early. I’m not saying you need to buy EVERYTHING right now, but it’s a good idea to start looking for deals. My grandson wears school uniforms and they just had a huge blowout sale on them with the lowest prices we’ve ever seen. So, obviously we stocked up now.

But the other thing you can do, especially if you don’t need to buy uniforms, is to spread out the purchases. Wait for sales and buy when they’re on a good deal. This helps eliminate the stress of trying to buy everything at once. You can avoid the back-to-school crowds and spread out the financial impact.

1 – Start by taking an inventory.

What do your kids have already in the way of school clothing? Does it still fit? You might need to try a few things on. If your kids are reluctant, suggest having a fashion show. That didn’t always work with Sam when she was little but sometimes it did. And with my grandson, I could easily see it working if we told him we’d take photos of him in each outfit. He loves having his picture taken!

PRO TIP: Obviously, when it comes to clothing, if it doesn’t fit, you need to get your kids some new clothes. But are there things you can spruce up and continue to use? Add a patch to the knees, sew on some new buttons, or put in a new zipper. With school supplies like pencil cases, you can often fix them up with duct tape. There are so many pretty kinds out there that you can actually make it functional and really cute too!

2 – Make a list of what your kids need.

It can be really expensive if you try shopping for back-to-school without a list. You may end up having too much of one type of clothing and not enough of another. Look over the inventory list of what your kids already have, figure out where the gaps are, and make your shopping list.

PRO TIP: Sometimes kids want all-new everything. I always made sure that Sam knew there was a budget and that we had to stick to it. Of course, we’d get her anything she needed, but when there were still items left from the year before that were completely usable, this is where the negotiations would start. Yes, you can have a brand new pencil case, but you have to use the leftover crayons from last year. Or you can have that big set of super cool scented markers but that means that you need to use the same binder from last year (again, which can be freshened up with stickers or duct tape).

3 – Check for sales and compare prices.

Be sure to check the flyers and keep an eye out for any sales. You want to take advantage of the best possible prices when you can. I like to use the Flipp app so I can easily see all of the flyers in one spot.

We are already seeing quite a few school supplies marked down on Amazon. Be sure to check out some online sites as well to make sure you’re able to get the best prices on what you need.

PRO TIP: Think ahead to the rest of the year. When does your child typically run out of lined paper or markers or any other school supplies? If it goes on sale for an incredibly low price (back in the day, I could buy lined binder paper for 10 cents a package when it went on sale every August), stock up if it’s affordable to do so.

school supplies on a chalkboard background

4 – Check your school’s supply lists.

Our schools don’t do supply lists. The schools provide each classroom with supplies for their students and don’t want to add any financial strain to families. However, as a former teacher, I can tell you that there was never enough to go around and by February, we had run out of pretty much everything. Also, many students got really frustrated by having to constantly wait for the supplies they needed.

If your schools do provide supply lists, find out if it’s available early so you can start making your plans for shopping and make the best of those sales. At the very least, you might be able to find out if there are any specific rules you need to follow – uniforms or dress codes (for example, for safety reasons, we had a dress code for gym class) or specific items that are prohibited (I know of some schools in the US where you have to use a clear backpack) and so on.

You can grab our FREE school supply shopping lists here. And in this blog post, we’ve got some suggestions and recommendations on various school supplies from from two experienced teachers.

Whether you’re going from a school-provided supply list or not, prioritize your purchases. The list may say that you need markers and colored pencils and crayons, but if that’s not within your budget, eliminate some of them. Or buy a higher quality pack of markers (where quality definitely makes more of a difference) and then grab the other items at the dollar store. Yes, even if the school has specified certain brands of materials.

PRO TIP: Add labels to your shopping list. You can have labels made or you can purchase some that you write on yourself. Or just grab a Sharpie and use that. The more you can label those items, the more likely they are to stay with your child.

5 – Find out if you can rent or borrow any of the necessary school supplies.

Some of the larger items like musical instruments can often be borrowed or rented. You can generally do that either from the school itself or from a local music store or studio. I’ve heard of some schools lending out graphing calculators as well. If there are any really costly items on your list, before you drop a lot of cash on them, be sure to look into your other options.

PRO TIP: Especially when it comes to things like musical instruments, renting or borrowing is a great way to find out if your child truly wants this instrument or not. They can try it out before you make a big investment into one.


Think ahead to next year. Is there some way to make this whole process easier? When Sam was attending a school for the arts, they had a uniform exchange at the beginning of each year. You would drop off your outgrown uniform pieces and they’d give you credits for each item. Then you could spend those credits on the sizes you needed for this year.

I’ve also heard of parents organizing supply swaps for the kids. They could take their old school supplies still in good condition and swap with others to get “new to them” supplies. This could be done through the school, with your church community, or in your neighborhood.

Finally, I know that some schools have instituted “classroom kits”. The PTA sells a kit that contains everything needed from that class’s supply list. They sell it at cost plus $5 (that $5 goes back to the PTA). You just order your kit and pay. Your child shows up to school on the first day and their kit is waiting for them in their classroom. For me, $5 would be well worth not having to do the shopping myself, but, there are disadvantages to it too.

It might be worth giving these ideas some thought. You might be able to present a viable option to your school community and get it organized for the next year!

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