Member Articles

Write an article!

Back-to-school shopping: 8 tips to stay within budget

How to get what your kids need without breaking the bank

by Single Ma  |  13940 views  |  5 comments  |        Rate this now! 

3.) The “back to school” list. Ignore those "back to school lists" in the stores. What I’ve found over the years is that they are very generic and the teachers will provide another list of what they require for THEIR classrooms anyway.

4.) Make your own list. Compare the teacher’s required list to your inventory and make a shopping list of only the items you need.

5.) Shop smart. With list in hand, search the internet and newspaper for sales and coupons, then go shopping for school supplies WITHOUT your children. All the colors, glitter, endcaps with fancy thingamajigs, children screaming “I want,” and "But Ma, li'l Suzie has one” is enough to make any sane mom catch a case.

6.) Shop efficiently. Only buy what you need. Follow your list. If it isn't on your list, don’t buy it. Even if it is on your list, just because it’s on sale for 10 cents doesn’t mean you should buy 20 of them.

7.) Clothes shop in your closet first. If you haven’t already done so, clean out your closets and do a clothes inventory. Did you buy your children new clothes at the beginning of summer or throughout the season? When is the last time li'l Johnny wore those pants? Does that shirt still have a tag on it? In fact, don’t you buy clothes as “needed” all year long? Keep in mind that it’s still summer and really think about if your children NEED even MORE clothes. A first day of school outfit is always fun to have. But seriously ask yourself, is more than one or two really necessary?

8.) Start early. If you insist on buying new clothes for school, don’t wait until “back to school” season that is prompted by retailers. Start early and shop when YOU are ready. Bargain hunt all summer (or year) long. When you see something you want (especially if it's on sale), get it right then and put it up for later.

By following the above, my spending is limited to "required" school supplies -- if and only if it is something we don’t already have. And my planned budget is less than $100. Well, unless her new math teacher requires another one of those fancy-smancy calculators.

I think “back to school” shopping is a marketing ploy. Don’t believe the hype! The most important things you can do to prepare for the first day of school are:

1.) Make sure your children re-adjust to their bedtime routine a week before school begins -- they need at least eight hours of sleep (or more).

2.) Get them up early enough to avoid rushing -- this will prevent some of the "first day" jitters.

3.) Prepare a healthy, well-balanced breakfast -- get those brain cells back in action.

About the Author

A working (single) mom and author of the personal finance blog Fabulous Financials @

Read more by Single Ma

5 comments so far...

  • I appreciate the list from the school and usually let her choose one new outfit for the start of school. Local discounter runs great sales in the "approved" before school time that you NEVER see the rest of the year.
    However it isn't an all new wardrobe, I think she got one "character" notebook this year, the rest are whatever was the $.50 a piece version.
    Other "I wants" become suggestions for the Christmas list.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Mich on 23rd August 2010

  • I did the back-to-school thing for the first year or two of my children's schooling. Having been homeschooled till they were ten or so, we were all kind of intrigued by the whole back-to-school excitement, and wanted to experience it all! It didn't take me (and my wallet) long to come to the same conclusions you've reached here.

    When my kids reached high school, and wanted the new things because of social pressures, I was always very understanding... so long as they were buying these non-essentials themselves! Because when you have a perfectly good backpack in a closet in your room, and you want a new one because it's this year's colour or label or whatever? That's a luxury, honey, not an essential, and you can buy it with your own money. It's astonishing how quickly a "must-have" becomes a "non-essential" when they have to pay for it!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by MaryP on 27th August 2008

  • This is my son's first year and I am glad to read this article. I have been feeling bad because I cannot afford to buy like that. He does have everything he needs but I have bought through out the year when I found good deals in preparation for him starting. I do shop thrift and yards sales but everything is in like new condition so no one will ever be the wiser. Thanks Single Ma for a great article.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by blessedmom2sweetboys on 12th August 2008

  • hahahaaa I do all of this!!! luckily for me my kids schools send a list in the mail of the supplies needed.. especially when it requires a dang scientific calculator!!! it gives me time to budget for said items and look for the best deal. As for clothes.. I don't buy for that same reason.. they get a few pieces to mix and match with what they already have and I'm a sucker for a new pair of shoes LOL

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by BK on 12th August 2008

  • I agree! My daughters (6 & 7) only need a few filler items to be completely "back to school" ready. Luckily, because they are close in age, my youngest daughter gets hand-me-downs that she is completely thrilled to have. :) My oldest daughter, frugal little miss that she is... loves bargain shopping with mommy. At the end of the school year, we go through items that no longer fit/are damaged etc., and we decide what we'll do with them. Salvation army, uniform swap (at the beginning of the school year), garage sale, etc. After that, we go to the Salvation Army and check out what others have returned. There is often an entire rack devoted to school uniforms. I purchased 6 pairs of pants, 8 shirts and two jackets for $37. I see NO reason to spend a lot of money on clothes that they tend to mess up. I also shop on e-bay. I just recently won a bid for 8 brand new French Toast shirts for $14. That included shipping. Over the summer, I'd pick up something here or there if it was on sale, etc. As far as an item such as shoes, we generally shop at Payless and Target for their shoes. There are plenty of quality shoes there.

    I run a home based business on the side, so I always have supplies. My kids go shopping in my supply cart for the school year. I rarely have to buy more than a few items for them. Even when i do, it's normally something special on the teachers list. If I didn't have a business, I'd probably get most of what's on the list from the dollar store. Local convenience stores like Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid often have GREAT deals for supplies as well. Sometimes even better than the larger stores. It's definitely a good idea to check the ads.

    Overall, there are so many things going on that we'll have to pay for at the beginning of a school year, I'd rather save when I can and where I can.


    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Kells on 12th August 2008