5 ways to save on back to school shopping

By Rebecca Lake

Reviewed by Natasha Pearce

Jul 14, 2023

Read time: 3 min

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Back-to-school season can put the brakes on summer fun and a pinch on your wallet if you've got a long list of supplies to buy. Between replacing clothes your kids have outgrown, picking up basic supplies, and making sure your student has the right tech, there's a lot to plan for. 

You don't need to be a mathematician to know that it all adds up. If you want your back-to-school budget to make the grade, it pays to know a few money hacks.  

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1. Shop for back-to-school items for free (in your own home)

Before you head out to the store or online to shop for school supplies, hit pause for a moment and look around. What do you have at home that you could already check off your list? 

Odds are you might have surplus school supplies at home already, especially if you're used to shopping for multiple kids each year. Do a sweep of spots where supplies are likely to hide. Check your home office, the hall closet, bookshelves, your kids' rooms. 

The goal is to find new or gently used items you can repurpose for the new school year to save money. Even if you only come up with one or two notebooks that never got used or a pack of pencils that have yet to be opened, those are things you don't have to buy. 

2. Shop sales tax holidays

One of the biggest questions about back-to-school shopping is when to get started. Store shelves are packed with school supplies by mid-summer.

Here's a tip: wait for a tax-free weekend. More than a dozen states offer tax-free weekends that fall in and around the back-to-school season. Some of the things you might be able to pick up free of sales tax include:

  • Clothing and shoes

  • Computers

  • School supplies

  • Art supplies

  • Books

Skipping the sales tax could yield some decent savings, especially if you're buying a big-ticket item like a new laptop or tablet. 

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3. Compare prices and ask for a match

During back-to-school season, lots of retailers are vying for your attention (and your money). It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the different deals, but if you can keep a cool head, comparing prices can go a long way toward helping you save money. 

You can use paper sales flyers, but comparing prices is usually easier online. While you're checking out different retailers' websites, you can also find out if they offer price matching. 

Price match guarantees help you get the best price possible. Every store's policy is different, but generally, if you buy something and then find it somewhere else for less, the original retailer will reimburse you for the difference. That's a quick and easy savings hack that can put money back in your pocket. 

4. Use coupons to save on back-to-school items

Clipping coupons might sound old-fashioned, but it's a tried and true way to save money. And thanks to couponing apps and browser extensions, you don't even have to bust out the scissors!

Joining store loyalty programs is another way to get coupons that you can use to save on back-to-school purchases. Your store might offer digital coupons you can load onto your loyalty card. And some loyalty programs also let you earn points for every dollar you spend that you can then redeem for coupons or discounts. 

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5. Shop with a cash back app

Cash back credit cards can help you earn back some of what you spend. But they can also leave you in a debt trap if you're charging most or all of the things on your back-to-school shopping list. 

  • You download the app and create a free account.

  • When you log in, you'll have a chance to browse offers from partner merchants.

  • If you click an offer and shop, you earn a percentage of your purchase back in cash. 

You can also stack the cash back you earn from an app with a cash back credit card. But don’t use the credit card unless you’re confident that you can pay the card off right away. Carrying a balance might mean you have too much credit card debt. Interest charges are way more than the cash back you’ll earn, so it doesn’t pencil out. 

If you struggle to stick to a back-to-school budget, the MoLO app can help. MoLO makes it easy to track your spending and keep your financial life balanced in the midst of the back-to-school frenzy. 

Rebecca Lake - Author

Rebecca is a senior contributing writer and debt expert. She's a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a banking expert for Forbes Advisor. In addition to writing for online publications, Rebecca owns a personal finance website dedicated to teaching women how to take control of their money.

Natasha Pearce - Author

Natasha is Achieve’s Director of Social and Community. For over 10 years, she has built communities across social media and blogs through enriching storytelling that helps brands deepen connections with consumers.

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