Tips for Back to School Shopping on a Budget

How much does the average Canadian family spend on back-to-school shopping each year for their children? It’s gone down quite a bit in recent years with the pandemic forcing families to stick to a stricter budget.

In 2020, for example, the average family anticipated a total of $727 on school supplies versus $919 in 2019. The numbers are expected to drop even more this year as families face inflation concerns.

Are you gearing up for back-to-school shopping and worried about breaking the bank? It can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are five tips to help you save money while still getting everything your kids need.

How to Create a Back-to-School Budget

Back-to-school shopping often comes with new clothes to buy, supplies to purchase, and sometimes even tuition to pay. However, with a little planning, it’s possible to create a budget that will cover all of your back-to-school expenses.

How can you create a comprehensive back-to-school budget before you start shopping? Start by making a list of all the expenses you anticipate for the upcoming school year. Often, schools provide these lists to you so that you know your expense sheet is accurate!

This might include items like new clothes, textbooks, school supplies, and any activities or clubs you plan to have your children join. Once you have a complete list, start setting budget goals for each item. For example, if you’re budgeting for back-to-school clothes, you might set that budget at $250.

Then, start shopping around for the best deals. Look for sales and coupons, and don’t be afraid to shop at second-hand stores or consignment shops. List those deals during the summer and continue to add to that list as you get to August and September.

Be sure to also make a list of recurring expenses and fixed expenses. For example, your child will likely only need one backpack per school year. You might, however, want to budget a monthly recurring expense for after-school singing classes or ongoing paper and pencil costs.

Now that you have your budget in hand and know exactly what you need, it’s time to shop! However, there’s a wise way to go about shopping for school supplies on a budget. Here are some tips to help families on a budget.

5 Ways to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Learning how to balance a budget with children is an art and a science. We know that to be true. However, the good news is that there are plenty of ways to save. You just have to know where to look and what to do.

Here are some of our expert tips on how to save when you budget for school supplies and other back-to-school items for your kids this year.

Make a List Before You Shop

The best way to avoid overspending when shopping for school supplies? Make a list before you go to the store. This way, you’ll know exactly what you need and can stick to your budget.

When making your list, be sure to include all the essential items, such as clothes, school supplies, and backpacks. You may also want to include non-essential items, such as lunch boxes and school spirit wear.

If you’re not sure what to include, check out our previous years’ back-to-school budgeting guides or speak with other parents about items they wish they’d budgeted for. Or, simply look back through old receipts and purchases.

You can pretty much bet that emergency purchases will arise throughout the school year. So, when in doubt, we’d definitely recommend adding in a cushion in your budget, whether that’s $100 or $500 extra to spend per child.

Once you have your list, take some time to compare prices at different stores before making your purchase.

Compare Prices Online and In-Store

One way to save money on school supplies and back-to-school clothing is to compare prices online and in-store. Oftentimes, items are cheaper online than they are in physical stores. However, it is important to factor in the cost of shipping when making your decision.

During this process, be sure to check out, understand, and take advantage of price matching policies. Popular stores such as Best Buy Canada, Walmart Canada, Apple, and other similar retailers all tend to offer price matching policies.

Price matching is when a store agrees to sell an item at the same price as a competitor’s price. Some stores will have a price match guarantee, which means that they will always match the prices of their competitors. Other stores may only offer price matching on certain items or during certain sales.

Either way, price matching can be a useful tool for parents looking to get the best deal possible on back-to-school supplies.

By planning ahead and taking advantage of deals, you can drastically reduce the cost of school shopping. Plus, you’ll be able to ensure you’re always getting the best price on supplies and clothing for your kids even after the back-to-school mania ends.

Shop Sales After School Starts

Basically, don’t blow your entire budget in August! If you’re able to, spread out your shopping both before and after school starts.

If you’re able to purchase the necessities before school starts then budget a set amount for those expenses. Then, hold off on purchasing other items until after September when school supplies tend to go on sale.

For example, if your child’s backpack is useable and can last for another few months, you might hold off on that purchase until they go on sale. However, purchasing new school supplies like binders, scissors, and pencils is something you can do before school starts.

Ultimately, our suggestion is to wait for the sale if you can. Stores typically have sales a few weeks after school starts. This is when they clear out summer items to make room for fall and winter merchandise. So, if you can wait to do your school shopping, you’ll likely find better deals.

It can also help to shop online. Many stores offer discounts when you shop online. Plus, you can often find coupons and free shipping codes that can help you save even more money.

Find Deals at Dollar Stores

Didn’t think dollar stores offered quality school supplies? You might not want to purchase some important items at dollar stores. However, for the most part, there are certain supplies that are the same regardless of where you purchase them.

And seeing as dollar stores typically sell school supplies for a fraction of the cost of regular retail stores, why not take advantage of those prices?

Some of the best deals on school supplies that can be found at dollar stores include pencils, paper, notebooks, glue, and crayons.

However, it is important to be aware that not all dollar store products are of the same quality. Items such as binders and notebooks should be purchased from a more reliable source, as they are more likely to hold up over time.

In this context, it’s important to understand quality versus price. Being a savvy shopper means understanding that, sometimes, investing a few extra dollars for a quality item that will last longer than a cheap one can often save you money in the long run.

Have a Scavenger Hunt at Home

You can find a surprising amount of supplies in your house if you take the time to explore.

Maybe an older sibling has barely-used notebooks and pencils under their bed or maybe there’s something valuable stashed away inside one small corner that may have gone overlooked all these years!

This means that if you’re looking to save on school supplies, there’s no better way than to see what you already have lying around the house.

Start by cleaning out backpacks from the past school year to see what is still usable. Then, look through desks, closets, and cupboards. Want to make a fun game out of it?

Create a fun scavenger hunt for your kids. Put school supply items on the list, such as binders, five unused or slightly used pencils, etc. See which kid can find every item on the list first and then reward them with a summer snow cone or treat.

Any way that you can make saving and recycling old items fun for your children is a win for your pockets. It also helps ensure that they view saving and budgeting as fun.

Brush Up On Other Financial Tips

Finding unique ways to save on back-to-school shopping is only part of creating a healthy financial lifestyle. It pays to brush up on other financial tips throughout the year as well.

We’ve made it easy for you to do that year-round.

Credito is a Canadian company dedicated to the financial health of fellow Canadians, and we have numerous resources available to you that can help you set realistic goals and achieve the life you deserve without breaking the bank.

Browse through our other budgeting articles to find more ways you can help your family save.