Tame your back-to-school spending in four easy steps

Follow these tips before hitting the stores to save on classroom supplies

It’s mind-boggling how quickly the most basic items on your back-to-school shopping list can add up to big bucks. A new survey shows parents are expected to spend more than ever before on new clothes, classroom supplies and the electronics many students want (and need) in case remote learning is required again during the 2021-2022 school year.

Families with children in elementary, middle and high school plan to spend about $849 on back-to-school items on average, which is about $59 more than last year, according to a report from the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. Total back-to-school spending is expected to reach $37.1 billion, which is a big jump from $33.9 billion last year and an all-time high in the survey’s history.

College students and their families also are projected to set spending records, the survey found. Total back-to-college outlays are expected to be about $1,200 per student for a total of $71 billion, up from $67.7 billion in 2020.

Maybe you’re feeling like you want to spend more — to celebrate the fact that we’re (hopefully) moving out of the pandemic. Or because the consecutive rounds of stimulus dollars made you feel flush. But maybe…just maybe…you’re not feeling that way. With a little extra effort, families can find ways to save on the items students need to set them up for a successful school year.

Know what you need

Many if not most schools post supply lists by grade level on their websites. Before you shop, find the list, review it and take a photo with your smartphone for easy access when shopping. Because so many students became remote learners last year, many of the items required this year may be the same ones you bought back in 2020 that were barely touched. Items such as backpacks, lunch boxes and those cute notebooks with clever sayings are likely still good as new.

Take stock of previously purchased school supplies and clothes

With an eye to using what’s already paid for, get four or five clear storage bins or old shoe boxes. Then ask your children to go to their rooms and bring back all of the pencils, pens and highlighters they have stashed in drawers, under the bed and anywhere else school supplies lurk. Place them in a box. While they are busy searching, check behind the couch cushions, the junk drawer, your desk or home office for more writing instruments you don’t need. They go in the box, too. Now do the same for folders, composition notebooks, loose leaf paper and art supplies. You may never need to buy pens again.

Before buying new clothes, take an inventory in your child’s closet to see if school outfits and shoes still fit. If not, and you have the time and energy, you could sell them on sites such as Facebook Marketplace or your school’s PTA social media pages to earn extra cash for new clothes.

Use price trackers and promo codes for deals on laptops and tablets

One of the most sought-after back-to-school items this year are laptop computers, with more than half of the families in the National Retail Federation survey reporting they plan to purchase them. Before you buy, check out price-tracking websites and apps, such as Slickdeals, Honey and Brad’s Deals, that can send subscribers email alerts when a product they want goes on sale. Many price trackers also come with automatic coupons or rebate features in addition to the price alerts.

Check with your school about software and approved devices

Many school districts offer free or deeply discounted software programs and laptop computers for students. It’s also a good idea to check with your school or district before purchasing a new device for classroom use. Many public and private schools only allow students to use electronic tablets and laptops provided by the district and won’t allow outside computers on campus.

With reporting by Casandra Andrews

Jean Chatzky

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