Amid soaring inflation, prices on all kinds of goods are up, and school supplies are no exception. As fall approaches, families are preparing for back-to-school shopping with the goal of saving money in any way they can.
A recent survey from Deloitte found that 36% of Americans said they are concerned about making upcoming back-to-school related payments, and 57% of shoppers are worried about the increasing prices of back-to-school supplies.
How Much Do People Spend on School Supplies?
The National Retail Federation found that the average family expects to spend $864 in 2022 on school supplies, $15 more than last year and $168 more than before the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s cumulative back-to-school spending is expected to match last year’s record high of $37 billion.
College students and their families are expected to spend an average of $1,199 on school supplies, textbooks, required technology and dorm room essentials. Total back-to-college spending is expected to reach $74 billion, up $3 billion from 2021.
Inflation is not the only problem that students and their families face this year, nor is it the only reason prices are rising.
“In addition to rising costs, some problems that consumers might be facing are shortages of products in stores or being backlogged, along with getting online orders shipped in time before school starts,” Farnoosh Torabi, editor-at-large for CNET Money and host of the “So Money” podcast, wrote in an email.
Supply chain shortages and high consumer demand have been affecting online delivery speed and product availability in stores, and this issue will likely continue to impact the retail industry moving forward.
Despite these challenges, here are 10 easy ways to save money on back-to-school shopping this year:
— Shop online first.
— Look for coupons.
— Shop for used items.
— Buy in bulk.
— Buy generic brands.
— Shop without your kids.
— Buy supplies that will last longer.
— Use discounted gift cards.
— Shop during tax-free weekends.
— Shop with a credit card that offers cash back.
Shop Online First
Before hitting the stores, try shopping online this year. Shopping expert Trae Bodge says consumers can expect most sales to launch online first. “People will likely find more sale inventory online, so leaning a little more heavily online would be smart this year,” Bodge wrote in an email.
Shoppers can also use coupon browser extensions to find discounts automatically. They can also get supplies delivered to a local store for pickup or shipped directly for free or for an extra delivery fee.
Look for Coupons
Searching for coupons is one of the easiest and most effective ways to save money during high inflation. Many companies offer products at a discount if consumers sign up for their email subscription, and there are many online services, websites and browser plug-ins that can help locate the best deals on back-to-school supplies, books and clothes.
“Consumers shouldn’t shop without looking for additional ways to save, like using deal platforms,” Bodge wrote in an email. “For example, a site like CouponCabin.com will have coupons, cashback, and bonus cash for many of the big Back-to-School retailers. And when you install their Sidekick browser extension, you’ll automatically be alerted to those offers as you browse.”
Other popular coupon browser extensions include Honey, Capital One Shopping, Rakuten and Ibotta.
Shop for Used Items
Shopping for used clothes and textbooks can be a great way to save money, and this, too, can be done online. There are a lot of online platforms for buying used clothes, like Kidizen and ThredUp. Local thrift stores like Goodwill and Plato’s Closet also offer gently used clothing at low prices.
Textbooks are one of the most expensive costs for college students. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average college textbook costs $105.37. For cheaper options, check out Facebook Marketplace or local used bookstores. Some university bookstores offer used books at a discounted price. Amazon also sells and rents used textbooks, and students can sell books back or return them after the semester ends.
Buy in Bulk
For supplies that students need every year, like notebooks, pencils, staples and paper, buy them in bulk. Purchasing items in bulk as opposed to buying per unit is almost always cheaper, especially for large families.
Buy Generic Brands
Buying generic brands instead of name brands can save money on back-to-school necessities and day-to-day shopping. Store brands are almost always cheaper than their name-brand counterparts, and they often offer the same product at similar quality.
The Dinner Daily, an online food and family website, found that generic brands are generally 25% to 30% cheaper than name brand products. While saving 50 cents or a dollar might not seem significant, it adds up for every item you purchase.
Torabi encourages back-to-school shoppers to seek generic brand products and supplies this year. “The quality of store-brand products often rivals competitive brands,” she says. “Plus, will your 5 year-old really care if you bring home a store-brand box of crayons, instead of Crayola?”
Shop Without Your Kids
Even though back-to-school-shopping is for kids, shopping without them can alleviate some pressure and help you stay within your budget. Kids have a lot of opinions when it comes to shopping for themselves, and their desires might not align with saving money.
“We all know how influential kids can be on shopping trips and, while it’s fine to craft your list with them at home, when it’s time to hit the stores, go solo,” Torabi suggests. “This way you’ll better avoid the pressure of spending more than what is on your list.”
Buy Supplies That Will Last Longer
Families tend to buy the same school supplies every year, and while items like new notebooks and pencils are essential, others like backpacks and binders can be reused. To save money amid rising prices, buy supplies that will last children a couple of years as opposed to only one school year.
“Invest in high quality items that will last at least two or three years,” Torabi says. “That may mean opting for durable backpacks with neutral colors, instead of cheap backpacks dressed with popular cartoon characters. You can still keep it fun and personal by letting your kids decorate the bags themselves with puff paint, stickers and iron-on patches.”
Purchasing higher-quality products that last longer will save money in the long run, and chances are that kids won’t even notice the difference.
Use Discounted Gift Cards
One of the lesser-known ways to save money this back-to-school season is using discounted gift cards. There are a lot of online services that sell discounted gift cards and even buy unused gift cards for cash. While you should be careful and fully read the requirements before buying or selling, discounted gift cards can be a good way to save.
“When you know you’ll be shopping a great deal at a particular store this back to school season, it may be worth it to check out sites like GiftCardGranny.com where you can purchase discounted gift cards to your favorite stores,” Torabi says. “For example, you might find a $50 Macy’s gift card for just $40. That’s an instant 20% savings.”
Other online discounted gift card sites include Raise, CardCash, GiftCardSpread and MyGiftCardsPlus.
Shop During Tax-Free Weekends
Shopping for school supplies on tax-free weekends and holidays can be a great to save money on back-to-school necessities. This year, 19 states offer discounted and tax-free back to school shopping holidays.
Most of these states are not taxing clothes and school supplies, and others are offering tax-free discounts on more items, such as art supplies, tech devices, children’s books and learning aids. Check out the Federation of Tax Administrators to get the comprehensive list of tax-free weekends and holidays by state and find out what qualifies.
Shop With a Credit Card That Offers Cash Back
When you go back-to-school shopping this year, shop with a credit card that offers points or cash back. If you don’t already have one that offers these benefits, do your research and consider signing up before your next big shopping event.
“Check your credit cards to see which one offers you the highest percentage (in cash back),” Bodge says. “If you realize that your credit card doesn’t offer cash back — or if your card is too complicated, it might be time to look into a new one for purchases down the road.”
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