Those sweet months of summer seem to fly — especially when you’re trying to budget for back-to-school essentials. Have no fear, The Freebie Guy is here with all the A+ tips to do some simple subtraction from your budget. Read on to learn our insider tricks that will get you a gold star in savings:
Never Pay Full Price for Back-to-School Items
The first thing you need to know about back-to-school shopping is simple: Never pay full price. There are so many good deals and opportunities to save yourself some serious coin at every corner.
One of the first things you need to do is commit yourself to savings — even if that means sometimes walking away from something you (or your kids) may want, versus getting something comparable for cheaper elsewhere.
Be Sure to Comparison Shop for Hidden Deals
Comparison shopping is a common money-saving tip in the grocery game, but did you know it works for back-to-school clothing and back-to-school electronics too?
You’re in luck, too: Thanks to tools like Google Shopping, comparison shopping has never been easier. Head over into your Google Search window to the tab marked “shopping” and use the filters on the side to find your item. Under the listing, it should show you a list of retailers that have your item in stock — as well as listing them with the total cost, from cheapest to most expensive. Why pay more when you can get it for less?
Shop a Year Ahead with Clearance
Clearance deals have the opportunity to really make the most for your money — as long as you’re patient. Checking for back-to-school goods out of season can really maximize your savings, especially at big box retailers.
Looking for items like notebooks, pencils, binders and more during late September to early October means the potential to see savings upwards of 75 percent off.
Stores like Target are known to discount their seasonal supplies in stages — typically 30 percent, 50 percent, 70 percent, then finally 90 percent off. Walmart has been known to have school supplies marked down to five cents a pop for essentials like notebooks, and Dollar General has been known to let back-to-school goods go for simply a penny. Don’t sleep on seasonal sales!
Don’t Shop at Amazon Without the Amazon Assistant
The Amazon Assistant is another browser extension that should be a must-have for any die-hard Amazon shopper. It works in the background as you online shop and surf the web.
Often, it will pull up the exact same item and show you how much Amazon has that item for sale — and while it sometimes is cheaper (who can argue with free Amazon Prime shipping benefits?), other times you will see the same item is cheaper on another website like Target, Best Buy, or other retailers.
Always Sign Up for the Newsletter
More and more often, retailers are seriously incentivizing signing up for their newsletters — often promising a lucrative coupon code in exchange for your email.
We know that many people aren’t a fan of excessive retail mail coming into their inbox, so to keep it streamlined, we suggest creating a separate email specifically for all your shopping needs. That way, whenever you need to go peruse the web, you will always have the store’s latest deals and coupons already in your inbox to stay on top of the sales.
Keep Tabs on Your Rewards with a Spreadsheet
This tip is especially useful for times like back-to-school shopping. Juggling a family with hectic schedules is hard enough, adding the responsibility of remembering the redemption periods for your rewards seems impossible. Not so fast — with a quick little Excel (or Google Sheets) document, you can streamline your entire coupon philosophy.
Check your “retail mail” email inbox every few days, updating a spreadsheet with the latest codes that come in in descending order. Even if you don’t think you will need that code, when it comes to savings, you should operate on a “never say never” philosophy — keep that code handy with the dates that it is valid, so even if you decide days (or weeks!) later, you won’t have to pay full price.
Always Use Your Rewards Cash
More and more often, stores are beginning to institute “store cash” promotions. You are probably familiar with the deals like Kohl’s Cash, Old Navy cash, Torrid cash, Hot Topic cash, and others like it. These promotions typically function where you make a purchase today, and they give you “cash” to use at the store at a later date.
Many times, it is easy to stash your cash on your table or in the empty bag, losing out on free money weeks later. But when it comes to back-to-school shopping, this can be a strategic approach.
Make one qualifying purchase early to earn your cash and keep track of it by logging it in your spreadsheet or physically pinning it to a corkboard. Save your other needed items for the redemption period — and watch the savings roll in!
Rely on the Dollar Store (for Some Things)
When it comes to back-to-school items like notebooks and stationary, it can be easy to fall into the trap of snagging some of the cool — yet pricey — items at many big-box retailers. Rather than dropping an average of $5.00 on a single wide-ruled notebook, you can get the same exact notebook without the fancy cover for $1.00 or less at your local dollar store.
With the savings, you can turn it into an annual family activity — getting color-coordinating folders and notebooks, and having your children decorate them with card stock, colorful markers, stickers and more. What is cooler than having it totally customized?
Sometimes Spending Up Saves You in the Long Run
You’ve probably heard the saying “you get what you pay for.” In certain cases, spending a little more up front may give you a huge savings in the long run.
There are certain back-to-school items that would be worth it to spend a little more on at the get-go: Electronics (such as laptops and tablets) with sturdy cases and warranties are on this list, as well as backpacks. Fewer items get heavier wear-and-tear than the backpack, and instead of dropping money on a new backpack every single year, you can put some money up front for a sturdy backpack with a warranty.
L.L. Bean, for example, is known for their generous warranty on their backpacks, which retail anywhere between $37 to $60.
Buy Used and Save the Difference
If your kids grow faster than a weed, it wouldn’t hurt to try and team up with some other parents in the same situation to score name-brand back-to-school clothes for way less.
Scour sites like Facebook Marketplace, Mercari, Depop, Kidizen, and Poshmark to find gently used clothes for deep discounts versus their brand new counterparts.
Sell Last Year’s Styles for This Year’s Budget Boost
Once you have those apps installed to buy back-to-school clothes, they work both ways! This tip is especially useful for teens who are constantly seeking the latest brand name items to add to their wardrobe.
Have your teens compile a list of items from last year they are willing to part with and use the proceeds to help fund this year’s back-to-school shopping haul. That is both eco-friendly and cost conscious — win win!
Mark Your Calendars and Start Early!
Back-to-school shopping can get nerve-wracking, especially if you are only trying to fill the gap during the short summer months. Rather than stress — and get raked over the coals with price inflation during the summer — check for good deals in the off-season to get the best bang for your buck.
Just like buying an air conditioner in December, the same principle applies to back-to-school shopping. Utilize deal days like Amazon Prime Day or Black Friday to maximize your money when it comes to big electronics purchases, as well as getting new school coats and knits at the end of spring — when discounts are deepest.
Check Deals Websites
This is one you can check off your list — if you made it this far, congratulations, you are one step ahead of the competition for saving money this back-to-school season! One of the best hacks around is checking online deal websites for little-known shopping hacks and freebies, so keep this page bookmarked and keep checking back for more to stay on top of all the sales.