Watch CBSN Live

15 great strategies to save on back-to-school purchases

Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Michelle Stoffel/GOBankingRates

Your budget can easily take a hit during back-to-school shopping season. From school and teacher requirements to overpriced items like college textbooks, overspending on school supplies often feels inevitable. And, of course, your kids are likely to want the latest "Frozen" versions of everything from binders to backpacks.

According to the National Retail Federation, most households spend more than $600 a year on back-to-school shopping. For college students, that figure rises to about $900. All together, Americans will spend more than $20 billion preparing for the return to the classroom this year.

But there are back-to-school savings opportunities everywhere.

Click ahead for some tips and tactics to help you save money on school shopping during the coming weeks.

This article was originally published by GOBankingRates.

1. Hold off on generic school supplies

Getty Images/iStockphoto

You can typically wait to buy basic items like pens and notebooks. "Buy the more specific back-to-school items early to make sure you get what you need -- for instance, a calculator or other supplies that needs to be a particular brand or model," said Jon Lal, founder and CEO of "For more generic items like paper, pencils and folders, prices will typically drop at the last minute late in the season."

2. Price match cheap school supply deals

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Doorbuster back-to-school deals tend to limit the number of items a buyer can purchase. According to Heather Schisler, founder of, you can price match a product at other office supply stores and even Walmart. Doing this increases the number of items you can get for those low prices.

3. Inventory your house first

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Before taking your kids' school supply list to the store, search your own home for items that could fit the bill. You might already have a number of the requisite products, such as pens and empty folders, in your home office.

4. Buy in bulk with friends

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Be mindful of the items you can buy in bulk and split among friends and neighbors. For example, goods like pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, brown paper bags, sandwich bags, tissues, markers and crayons all tend to be less expensive when purchased in large quantities.

Parents whose children are in the same classes or schools can pool their resources when shopping to save both time and money.

5. Leave the kids at home

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you're thinking of bringing your kids along for back-to-school shopping, you might want to reconsider.

"Now, I realize some parents like to take their kids back-to-school shopping, as it makes them feel a part of the process, but I'm here to tell you that it's typically not a good idea to haul them along, especially young kids," said Kyle James, founder of "Kids are gonna throw off your money-saving mojo because they are going to want the expensive Hello Kitty backpack, and they are going to want the G.I. Joe pencils that cost five times what they should."

6. Buy your textbooks used

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Since 2006, the cost of college textbooks has increased by 73 percent -- that's more than four times the rate of inflation, according to Student Public Interest Research Groups. Today. Individual textbooks often cost more than $200 and are sometimes as much as $400.

However, buying a used textbook can offer significant savings. One algebra textbook, which retails for more than $200 on Amazon, is available used on the site for just $45.

7. License an e-textbook online

Getty Images/iStockphoto

You can also save money on back-to-school shopping by licensing electronic copies of your textbooks. Typically, textbooks are available for set periods of time, such as one semester.

8. Take advantage of tech deals for college students

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Many stores provide discounts on electronics for college and high school students. Kyle James recommended checking out the Apple Education Pricing page or Best Buy's College Student Deals. Be prepared to provide proof of your student eligibility with an ID card or college transcript.

9. Be cheap -- but not too cheap -- with backpacks

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Kyle James cautioned that backpacks are big budget busters for many families. "The best way to save on a new backpack is to always avoid the big name brands and more importantly always avoid the character-themed backpacks," he said. "Those are always priced 20 percent to 30 percent higher and simply not worth the extra money."

However, he warns that you still want to buy quality backpacks, such as Timberland, Rockland and Embark products, that will actually last through the entire school year.

10. Host a clothing swap

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Throw a quick party, invite your friends and tell them to bring some clothes their kids have outgrown.

"You can have a clothes swap with friends and neighbors with gently-used clothing that no longer fits,"'s Jon Lal said. "This works especially well with parents of children with the same gender as yours but at different ages."

For best results, be somewhat selective with your invites. You also might want to schedule a Goodwill pickup so guests don't have to haul their leftovers back home at the end of the day.

11. Check out your credit card offers


Certain credit cards offer rebates and rewards on select categories throughout the year, including back-to-school goods at wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam's Club. If you shop there for school supplies anyway, you could save a little cash each time you swipe. So check for special offers!

12. Take a teacher friend shopping

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Lots of retailers offer discounts for teachers, particularly on school supplies and during the back-to-school frenzy. Heather Schisler's site offers a growing list of places where teachers can score discounts, usually by showing their school ID. If you are an educator, or know one, you can probably buy your school supplies this year for less.

13. Join a parent networking group

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Check online and talk to neighbors and other parents about any networking or resource-sharing groups that might be popular in your area. These groups can offer an easy way to source second-hand supplies. You can also try sites like to find people in your area who are looking to unload leftover school items.

14. Shop during a tax holiday

Mark Erickson/Getty Images

Many states offer certain days when sales tax is waived on select items, and school supplies are typically among them. Before heading to the shops, do some research to determine your local tax rate and find out what will and won't be eligible for the tax-free holiday. For best results, aim to pick up big-ticket items on these special days.

15. Look for non-school items, too

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Because back-to-school shopping means big bucks for retailers, many stores will offer sale rates on normal household goods. Be on the lookout for ways to save on all kinds of items, from kitchen supplies like paper towels and cleaning products to furniture and even electronics.

Click here for even more back-to-school savings tips.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.