This year, families are on track to spend an average of $688 on back-to-school supplies, a figure that’s up 14% over last year’s numbers. This already high figure should be even bigger for college students, who don’t just have regular school supplies, but books and even dorm room accessories, too. Don’t despair just yet — we have good news, too: there are plenty of ways to cut your back-to-school bill, and we’ve shared 60 of them here. Read on, and you’ll find seemingly endless options available to avoid going broke during back-to-school season.
These ideas work whether you’re picking pens or a brand new pair of jeans.
- Avoid buying too many trendy pieces:
Back-to-school shopping items should last the whole school year; buy too many trendy items, and you’ll be back buying new ones when the semester is over and you’re ready to upgrade.
- Shop online:
It’s much easier to stick to your list and compare for the best price if you do it from the comfort of home. Save yourself the hassle of running from store to store by simply shopping online.
- Think outside the big box:
Plenty of deals can be found at big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target, but don’t stop there. Dollar stores and even eBay are great places to stock up.
- Keep an eye on ads:
So often, stores put a select few supplies on sale as a loss leader to get you in the door. If you’re careful, you can spot these items in weekly circulars, and pick up your supplies little by little for very cheap.
- Shop around:
All those loss leader deals aren’t likely to be in the same place: stores are counting on you to stick around and buy higher margin items. But you don’t have to. Shop around, breaking your school supply list into a variety of different stores.
- Spread your shopping out:
Shopping around for the best deals is time consuming and expensive. If you’re going to do it all in one weekend, you’ll be exhausted and spend a lot of money on gas. But if you take your time, picking up select items as you go about your errands over a few weeks, you can not only spread out the expense, but make it painless to pick and choose among the best deals.
- Keep your shopping list in your car:
Be ready to snatch up deals wherever they are by keeping a list of the things you need in your car at all times.
- Shop price matching stores:
If you’d rather avoid the hassle of shopping around, shop at a store that offers price matching. Typically, you’ll just need to visit customer service and show ads from comparable stores.
- Wait for sales tax holidays:
Many states offer tax-free weekends, allowing back-to-school shoppers to pick up essentials without having to pay tax. Covered items typically include school supplies, clothes, even electronics, offering a state-sponsored way to get a great deal.
- Wait until Labor Day:
You’ll find good deals in the back-to-school rush, but great deals are to be found after school has already started. Consider what you can do without for the first month or so, like clothes, and buy them after Labor Day.
- Keep quality in mind:
School supplies should be made to last at least one school year, if not more. Items like backpacks, even markers are often better and last longer when you buy a name brand that’s just a bit more expensive.
- Find out what you can borrow for free:
Does your school library have the books you need for class? What about laptops, printers, even calculators? Don’t buy what you can borrow for free.
- Don’t forget your coupons:
Whether you’re shopping online or in store, coupons can make a big difference. Check it out before you go and save money. You can often find promotions through social media, QR codes, and even text coupons.
- Use your smartphone:
Use apps like Google Shopper to scan bar codes and find the best price for the product at nearby stores.
- Make a beeline for the sales rack:
Whether you’re shopping for clothes, electronics, or paper, there’s a chance you might find what you need in the clearance section. Stop by and check out what’s there before spreading out to the rest of the store.
- Identify items you can skimp on:
Cheaper items that tend to get replaced often can be skimped on, like lunchboxes, pencil cases, and even alarm clocks.
Save big on basic supplies like notebooks and pencils with these tips.
- Inventory what you have:
Before you hit the store, find out exactly what you have already. It’s all too easy to pick up items you don’t think you have, but have been sitting in your kitchen junk drawer all summer.
- Buy a backpack that’s made to last:
You should be able to use your backpack for multiple school years. Find one that you know you’ll love next year, and one that’s well made enough to stand the test of time.
- Buy some items in bulk:
For supplies that will need to be replenished throughout the year, buy in bulk. Pens, paper, and notebooks are great candidates.
- Pool with friends:
If you don’t think you’re going to burn through a 100-pack of pens this school year, but want the savings you get from buying in bulk, as your friends to pool with you and split the cost.
- Buy generic:
Although some higher-quality items call for brand names, others don’t need to be. Figure out which items you can buy generically and save money.
- Sign up for cash back sites:
Websites like Ebates and ShopAtHome allow you to earn back a percentage of your online spending, which can become significant during the back-to-school season.
Picking up a new iPhone or laptop? Don’t miss these tips.
- Buy a laptop that’s just good enough:
Chances are, you don’t really need that $2,000 Mac Book Pro. Think about what you need to get your work done and buy a computer or laptop that can meet those needs.
- Buy a “good enough” phone, too:
It’s fun to have a tricked-out smart phone, but do you need a top of the line model? Find out what you really need, and pick a phone and plan to match.
- Use your student discount:
Many major computer and software brands offer discounts and special deals for students, so be sure to hunt for them.
- Look for energy efficient electronics:
Save money in the long run by choosing electronics that will use a minimal amount of electricity.
- Find free software:
Free and open source software offers a great way to cut down on your computer budget. Often, these software programs do a job that’s just as good, if not better.
- Buy a computer monitor instead of a TV:
Turn your computer monitor into a multitasker, using it for everything from watching TV to gaming and computing.
- Check out refurbished items:
Refurbished electronics can offer a lot of bang for your buck, especially those that are factory refurbished to perform like new.
- Upgrade what you have:
Replacing your sluggish computer with a brand new one isn’t always the answer. Consider upgrading your hard drive or memory before starting out fresh; it’s a much cheaper option.
- Forget the printer:
Just about every college campus has a printing option that’s more affordable than buying your own. Students may be required to submit assignments electronically, and student libraries typically offer printing for free or low cost.
Build out your new back to school wardrobe on the cheap with these ideas.
- Take an inventory:
Just like school supplies, it’s important to know what you have before you go back-to-school clothes shopping. Keep track of what clothes you have, and what you need before you hit the mall.
- Get rid of old clothes for money:
While you’re taking inventory, spend some time picking out pieces that you rarely wear. Consider pulling them out to sell, donate, or swap.
- Do a clothing swap:
Instead of hitting the mall for all new outfits, get a few from your friends. Host a clothing swap party to get together and celebrate before the school year, and even pick up some fun new pieces to wear to school.
- Set a budget before you go:
When you’re in the throes of clothing shopping, it’s easy to get carried away and spend way more than you realize. Rein it in, deciding what you need and how much you’ll spend.
- Go for classic pieces first:
Look for clothing items that you can wear with anything practically anywhere. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of them, and can pair them with fewer, less practical pieces.
- Allow for a limited amount of splurging:
Shoes, jeans, and other foundation pieces are a great place to spend a little extra money. Look for quality and a fit that makes you happy to ensure that you’ll get the most wear out of your most expensive pieces.
- Remember the dress code:
Keep in mind that your school may have an appropriate dress code. Find out the rules and make sure you aren’t purchasing any items that won’t be allowed. You’ll just be wasting your money as they sit useless in your closet.
- Shop discount stores and outlets:
Find fashionable items for less at discount stores and outlets. You may have to drive farther or spend more time shopping, but the deals are worth it.
- Try everything on first:
It makes shopping take longer, but checking out the fit on clothing will keep you from buying ill-fitting pieces and save you money.
- Buy used clothing:
Check out secondhand shops for clothes. You just might find something unique, and of course, dirt cheap.
- Consider the climate:
This is especially true for those going to school out of state. You may be used to snow-capped winters, but if you’re going to school in, say, Florida, you can cut many expensive winter items out of your back-to-school clothing budget.
- Buy items you’ll actually wear:
It’s fun to shop for a new wardrobe, but be careful not to reinvent yourself. Buy too many unusual items, and you may not have any clothes that you’ll realistically wear.
- Update existing items:
Faded but structurally sound pieces can be refreshed with a quick dye job. Short pants can be turned into shorts, and patches can be sewn on to worn out jeans.
- Get crafty:
Learn how to alter or even make clothing, and you’ll have a lot more options for not a lot of money. You can even repurpose old clothing items into new ones.
- Get friendly with your tailor:
Even if you’re not skilled enough to do it yourself, a tailor sure can. Nice pants, dresses, even shirts that don’t fit quite right can often be altered for less than the cost of a new item.
- Buy off-season:
This requires a little bit of planning, but buying ahead out of season can save you tons of cash in the clearance section.
Books are a major expense for college students. These tips can help you find the books you need on a budget.
- Start early:
When textbook shopping, time is on your side. Start early, and you’ll have much better options. You can comparison shop, pick up used books before they’re all gone, and even wait around for sales.
- Buy used:
Of course, we all know this one, but it’s worth mentioning just in case. Whenever possible, buy used books instead of new ones. It just makes sense.
- Share with a friend:
It can be a complicated arrangement, but with the right friend and the right schedule, it’s possible to share (and split the cost) of expensive textbooks.
- Go online:
Comparison shop for your books online; you may find it’s cheaper than the campus bookstore.
- Find older editions:
The content will be nearly the same as new editions, but the price will almost certainly have been dropped. Pick up an old edition of your textbooks for cheap, but be sure to check with your professor first.
- Use e-books:
Many college-level e-books are cheaper than their paper counterparts. Consider downloading e-books to your laptop, phone, or reader instead of buying “real” ones.
- Don’t buy every single book on the syllabus:
Often, you’ll find that there are books on the syllabus that you won’t even need. Buy books as you go, and there’s a good chance you’ll save lots of money.
- Sign up for Amazon Student:
Using Amazon Student, you can find great prices on textbooks and even get free two-day shipping.
- Rent textbooks:
Websites like Chegg.com make it easy for students to rent textbooks as necessary for a fraction of the purchase price.
Use these tips to set up your dorm room with style, not necessarily cash.
- Go reusable:
Instead of stocking up on prepackaged items like cokes and individual servings on chips and other treats, just buy them in larger sizes and put them in reusable containers. You’ll save money in the long run.
- Check out garage sales:
Find household essentials on the cheap by buying used items at garage sales and thrift stores. Even ask friends and family if they have any furniture and items they no longer need.
- Find cheap furniture:
Beyond used items, check out IKEA, furniture outlets, and even Craigslist for deals.
- Cut out the non-essentials:
Consider what you can strike off your dorm room must-have list. DVDs can be replaced with Netflix. You may not ever use kitchen items like a fridge, microwave, or tea kettle when you have an entire cafeteria full of food. Think about what’s really important for your dorm room comfort.