Back-to-school shopping: 11 ways to save

It’s time to gear up for a new school year. That means getting back on a normal routine, pulling out those fall clothes and, of course, shopping for the return to school. 

Sending your kids to school with the supplies they need helps them get off to a good start. Balancing that with your budget, though, can be tricky. From lunchboxes to loose-leaf paper and everything in between, back-to-school purchases add up. Especially if you’re shopping for a few kids.

Key takeaways

  • The National Retail Federation projects that families of elementary, middle and high school children will spend an average of $890 in 2023 on back-to-school shopping.
  • Some ways to save money include using what you already have, buying in bulk and waiting for a tax-free shopping weekend.
  • Spreading out your shopping could give you time to research prices, take advantage of sales and give your finances some breathing room.
  • Shopping with a rewards credit card can help you earn cash back or travel miles on your school purchases.

Get the best deals available

Capital One Shopping applies coupon codes to your orders automatically.

How much does back-to-school shopping cost?

Every year, teachers and schools prepare thorough lists of school supplies each child will need. Add to that list electronic devices like computers, tablets and phones as well as essentials like clothes and backpacks and the National Retail Federation projects families with children in elementary, middle or high school will spend an average of $890 in 2023 on back-to-school shopping.

11 tips on saving money this back-to-school season

Back-to-school shopping is one of many common expenses that come with managing finances as a parent. But it doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are 11 tips that might help:

1. Wait for the official school list

It may be tempting to get your shopping out of the way early. But if you want to save some cash, wait for the official list to avoid stocking up on supplies your child won’t need.

And don’t just wait for the list—stick to it. It can be easy to throw a ton of extra items into your cart, especially if you’re shopping with your kids. Sure, those designer journals look fun. But if you’re on a budget, staying focused on the list is a smart choice.

2. Take stock of what you already have

Before you head to the store, take a look around your house. Did your child use all eight glue sticks from last year? How about the four boxes of crayons or six boxes of tissues?

There may be some carryovers that are also on this year’s list. A little due diligence can save you some cash.

3. Set spending limits

A pair of shoes here, a warm jacket there. Back-to-school shopping can quickly spiral. Setting a spending limit can help keep you focused and motivated to find savings wherever possible. Bonus points if you can get your kids involved: It might teach them a valuable lesson or two about money.

4. Take your time

Waiting for the official list doesn’t have to mean a last-minute scramble to shop. Your child’s school might publish its supply lists near the start of summer. That can give you time to research the best deals and discounts—as well as take advantage of some big sales.

Even after checking the last thing off your list, it’s worth keeping an eye on the sales. Some retailers will consider giving you a partial refund if an item drops in price at their store or elsewhere after you purchase it. 

And remember, you don’t have to get everything before school starts. If you need to stretch out your spending, think about which things can wait a little longer. That could be a winter coat for your kid or hand sanitizer and tissues for the class.

5. Know when to save and when to splurge

It’s probably OK to buy bargain paper since your kids will blow through it quickly. But when it comes to items like three-ring binders and backpacks, it may be better to buy higher-quality, more durable choices. These items get a lot of use and can wear out quickly. So consider lasting quality over the lowest price to save yourself money in the long run.

6. Consider the credit card you use

There can be many advantages to shopping with a credit card. Credit cards offer protection from fraud and the chance to build credit, as long as they’re used responsibly. And if you shop with a rewards credit card, you can enjoy money-saving benefits too.

Depending on which rewards card you use, purchases like pens, notebooks and lunchboxes could earn you cash back for more shopping or travel miles for your next family vacation. 

Consider using a card that lets you earn rewards for back-to-school shopping and gives you flexibility in how to spend them. For example, eligible Capital One cards can be linked to PayPal Pay with Rewards and Amazon Shop with Points.

7. Get the most for your money with Capital One Shopping

Before you pay full price, find great coupons and deals with Capital One Shopping. Capital One Shopping is a free online shopping tool that makes saving time and money easy. Say you find a backpack online your kid will love. Capital One Shopping instantly checks thousands of other sellers for a better price. And it automatically locates valid coupons and applies them at checkout. 

If you’re not happy with the discounts or coupons it finds, Capital One Shopping will add items you’ve viewed to a watchlist tailored just for you. That way, you can keep an eye on that backpack—and matching lunchbox—for any future price drops or discounts. This can be a real money saver, especially during busy retail shopping seasons.

Visit Capital One Shopping online or add the browser extension to get started.*

8. Watch for tax holidays

Check to see whether your state has a sales-tax holiday. If it does, you may be able to save on big-ticket items like computers and electronics—not to mention new school clothes.

9. Buy in bulk

Whether it’s your first time or you’re a seasoned pro, back-to-school shopping can be hard on you and your budget. Why not team up with some friends to save some headaches as well as a few dollars?

Combine your lists and buy in bulk to save money. Look for buy-one, get-one deals and bundled purchases. Your daughter may not need a pack of 10 spiral notebooks, but it could make sense for multiple families. You can sort out who gets what colors later. If you pool your resources, you just might come out ahead. And you may even have a little fun.

10. Buy used or refurbished

It doesn’t all have to be brand spanking new. Consignment, thrift and resale shops are great places to find everything from leggings to laptops for less. 

If you’re buying electronics secondhand, it’s a good idea to shop for a certified used or previous-year model from the manufacturer or another reputable seller. For clothes and other school supplies, you can try thrift stores and yard sales. You might even be able to do a used-clothes exchange with friends or neighbors.

11. Plan ahead for lunches

Buying lunches every day can add up. Consider sending your kids to school with lunches you make at home. A little planning before and during the school year can go a long way. Here are some helpful tips to make meal prep less taxing—and keep some change in your pocket:

  • Stock up on reusable containers. It may cost a little more upfront, but it could save you money in the long term.
  • Build your own single-serving snacks. It’s tempting to grab convenience foods for kids’ lunches. But you may be paying for that convenience. Consider buying in bulk and portioning out in reusable containers.
  • Prepare lunches during weekends. Set aside an hour on the weekend to prep for the week ahead.

Back-to-school shopping tips in a nutshell

Back-to-school season doesn’t have to be stressful—for you, your kids or your bank account. You can set everyone up for success with some advanced planning and comparison shopping. Your kids will have exactly what they need to get off to a great start—and you could keep extra cash in your wallet.

And while you’re shopping, consider using a Capital One rewards credit card. A Quicksilver card earns you unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your everyday purchases, like gas and retail. But every Capital One cash back credit card gives you a percentage back for all qualifying purchases—so you can get rewarded for every dollar you spend.

Related Content