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Tips On How To Save Money On Back-to-School Shopping

#BacktoSchoolSavings: How to Slash Your Expenses and Still Get Everything on the List!

Attention all parents: do you want to save money on back-to-school shopping without sacrificing quality?

In light of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, The National Parent Survey 2023 explored UK parents’ concerns regarding school-related expenses. They found that 33% of parents are concerned about the cost of sending their child to school with things like school uniforms, school trips and school meals/drinks being the top three costs parents are most concerned about when it comes to sending their child to school. The financial burden extends beyond these essentials, with parents also expressing concern about technology costs, transportation, subject-specific materials (like art supplies or sports equipment), and even before and after school clubs. There are over 2.8 million children in the UK living in households where their parents are struggling to afford the cost of sending them to school. 

All this easily causes huge amounts of stress for parents, especially if they have more than one child. Shockingly, disabled parents or parents of SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) children are more likely to be struggling with the costs of school. As the new school year approaches, the expenses can quickly add up and leave you with a hefty bill. But fear not, there are ways to stretch your money and still get everything your child needs for school. In this article, we will explore some simple and effective strategies for parents to save money on back-to-school shopping for the upcoming school year. Get ready to stock up on supplies while keeping your budget in check.

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1. Audit Your School Items from the Previous Year

With the new school year approaching, it’s a good idea to take stock of your child’s leftover school supplies.  To save money and reduce waste, consider conducting a school item audit. Gather everything from backpacks and pencil cases to textbooks and art supplies. Check for items that are still in good condition and can be reused for the upcoming year.  You can also sort out any gently used items that your child has outgrown or no longer needs, which can be sold online or at consignment shops to recoup some cash and declutter your space. You never know, they might even be able to continue wearing some of the items if they still fit and are good quality. This resourceful approach can help ease the back-to-school financial burden and promote sustainability!

2. Make a Budget and Stick to It

Back-to-school season can be a whirlwind of shopping lists and enticing sales, but setting a budget for these expenses is crucial.  Without a plan, it’s easy to overspend and strain your finances. Creating a back-to-school budget is an empowering first step.  Start by gathering last year’s receipts and school supply lists to estimate your needs.  Next, factor in additional costs like clothing, electronics, and extracurricular activities.  Once you have a realistic total, allocate specific amounts for each category.  Sticking to your budget takes discipline, so prioritise needs over wants, and compare prices before you buy.  Take advantage of sales, but avoid impulse purchases.  By involving your children in the budgeting process, you can teach them how to make financial decisions and help them get ahead with their financial literacy, budgeting will also lead to a smoother and less stressful back-to-school season.

3. Shop Smart: Sales, Coupons, and Secondhand Items

Stretch your back-to-school budget further with smart shopping strategies.  Hold off on purchases until sales hit their peak, which often happens closer to the school year.  This patience can snag you deep discounts on essentials like backpacks and notebooks. Embrace the “secondhand” option!  Many stores offer gently used uniforms and school supplies at significantly lower prices.  Consider online marketplaces or consignment shops for hidden gems.  Finally, don’t underestimate the power of coupons!  Clip them from newspapers, search online for discount codes, and leverage store loyalty programs. By combining these tactics, you can turn back-to-school shopping into a budget-friendly adventure!

Don’t forget to check out places like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Vinted, and your local charity shops and don’t forget to speak to your child’s school to see if they hold secondhand uniform sales to help you save money. Budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl often do school uniform events where you can get a uniform for £5. These tend to be more suitable for primary school-aged children and you might be restricted if your child is above or below-average sizing or if the school colours are anything other than red, navy or black but they are still worth checking out.

For things like scientific calculators and other specialist equipment. contact the school to see if they sell these items. For calculators in particular, schools will often specify a certain make and model so that all pupils are using the same one, this makes it far easier to teach a class of 30 how to use the functions if they are all using exactly the same calculator. For this very reason, schools will often bulk-buy them so that they can offer them to parents at a reduced rate. In the shops, the calculator my daughter’s school recommends retails for £15 – £20, to buy it directly from school is as little as £9.50 which is a huge saving.

4. Think Long-Term Savings 

While the initial cost might seem higher, consider back-to-school shopping as an investment. Opting for high-quality backpacks, lunchboxes, and water bottles made with durable materials can save you money in the long run. These items will likely withstand daily wear and tear for several years, eliminating the need for frequent replacements.  Look for well-constructed backpacks with strong zippers and padded straps, or stainless steel lunchboxes that resist dents and leaks.  Investing in quality also applies to footwear.  A sturdy pair of well-made shoes provides good support and comfort, potentially reducing the need for multiple replacements due to wear and tear throughout the school year.  By prioritising quality over immediate savings, you can create a cost-effective approach to back-to-school shopping that benefits your wallet and the environment by reducing waste.

We usually buy Dr Martens for our children, but they only get replaced when they grow out of them my daughter loves hers so much that she wears them outside of school as well. Not only are they fantastic quality, but they are comfortable for walking and keep their feet warm and dry in the British weather.

Consider bulk-buying staples like notebooks or pens, especially if you have multiple children. Multi-use items like a refillable water bottle or a washable lunchbox can also be a budget-friendly option compared to buying disposables.

5. Use Cash Back Apps

Cashback can be a great way to save money on back-to-school shopping. Al from has more information:

The majority of the big brand stores you buy from are likely to be found on gift card cashback apps such as JamDoughnut. These types of apps are a really fast way to earn cashback on your purchase when compared with the conventional cashback sites such as TopCashback and Quidco, as you don’t need the cashback to track with the retailer and cashback service and then wait weeks for the payment to hit your account.

If buying school supplies from supermarkets, you can use the gift card cashback apps to pay for your whole supermarket shop, which means you’ll earn cashback on your school supplies as well as all your grocery products, and with the ability to cash out from when you have as little as £5 in your cashback account you’ll get your cashback fast, plus the option to cashout to a gift card means you can then use that gift card to pay for another school expense, a nice treat for the kids, or for a fancy coffee for you to help you get over the stress of shopping for school supplies!

If you haven’t already signed up with a git card cashback app, you’ll likely be able to claim a new user sign-up bonus, and that could help pay for some of your school supplies, which is always handy!

If you have a cashback credit card or use a bank such as Chase, you may well be able to earn cashback paying via this method (1% cashback via Chase for some users), also using automatic cashback apps such as Airtime Rewards will track purchases you’ve made at partnered retailers, so you could be earning cashback without even realising it!

You can find a more in-depth guide to cashback apps on the Penny Pincher blog here, and this explains how they work and the best ones to use.

It makes sense to be earning cashback on your school supplies purchasing, after all, you need it anyway so why not help keep those costs down by receiving cashback?  

Cashback has never been easier to get. Rates are going up due to new cashback apps coming online, which increases their competitiveness to get your business. This is good news for your purse. Just compare rates before you buy, as rates go up and down on a daily basis, especially towards the end of the month/payday!

Katrina from Real Girls Wobble recommends Top Cash Back:

“Choosing TopCashBack for back-to-school shopping is wise, as it empowers parents and students to make the most of their budgets. With its cash-back offers at various retailers, you know you are getting the best deals. Save money at these popular UK retailers include:

  1. Argos – Offers a wide range of school supplies, electronics, and clothing.
  2. John Lewis & Partners – Known for high-quality school uniforms, stationery, and tech gadgets.
  3. Currys – Ideal for electronics such as laptops, tablets, and calculators.
  4. Tesco – Great for school supplies, clothing, and lunchbox essentials.
  5. ASDA – Provides affordable school uniforms, stationery, and backpacks.
  6. Marks & Spencer – Offers durable school uniforms, shoes, and accessories.
  7. WHSmith – Specialises in books, stationery, and educational tools.
  8. Clarks – Known for high-quality and comfortable school shoes.
  9. The Works – Offers budget-friendly books, arts and crafts supplies, and educational materials.
  10. Sports Direct – Great for sportswear, PE kits, and school bags.”

6. Think about Reselling

Don’t let outgrown school clothes and unused supplies gather dust!  Turn your pre-loved school items into cash and declutter your space at the same time. Reselling platforms like online marketplaces or consignment shops are great options for finding new homes for these items.  Taking good-quality photos and providing detailed descriptions will attract potential buyers. Remember, gently used uniforms, backpacks, and specific textbooks can be a lifesaver for budget-conscious parents of younger students.  By reselling, you not only extend the life cycle of these items but also contribute to a more sustainable back-to-school season for everyone. If you are buying new items, avoid getting things like PE kits personalised so you can sell them or pass them down to your younger children.

7. Spread the Cost

The back-to-school shopping rush can hit your wallet hard. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, consider spreading out the costs throughout the year. Here’s how: Take advantage of off-season sales! Stock up on basic supplies like notebooks and pencils when they’re deeply discounted during non-peak periods. Keep an eye out for when the stores offer their best deals and school sales so you can pick up basics. Plan for larger purchases like backpacks or shoes by setting aside a small amount each month, and building a dedicated back-to-school savings fund.  This way, you’ll approach the peak shopping season with less pressure and a healthier bank account.

Another way to spread the cost this school shopping season is by teaming up with friends or family members to buy items together. For example, I recently spotted a pack of three glue sticks which cost £1.99 whereas a single glue stick cost £1. These little savings will soon add up.

My favourite way to spread the cost of items is to check the school website or speak to them directly and see what will be needed at the start of the school year and what isn’t required until later. There’s no point rushing to buy it all for the first day of school if it’s not going to be used until the summer term, this means you can spread the cost throughout the school year.

8. Make Sure You Label EVERYTHING

Taming the back-to-school chaos starts with a simple yet powerful tool: labels! Labelling everything from lunchboxes to notebooks, clothes to shoes ensures your child’s belongings stay put. No more replacing things because they have gone missing. Clear labels not only save time and reduce stress but also promote organisation and a sense of ownership for your child.  Plus, labelled items are less likely to be mistaken for someone else’s, minimising the risk of lost or borrowed (and never seen again!) supplies.  So, grab your Stamptastic kit (use code ‘unicorns’ to get £4.99 off the deluxe bundle) and your Name It Labels, and get labelling for a smooth and organised school year!

9. Buy Generic Brands

Brand names can hold a certain allure, but when it comes to back-to-school supplies, generic brands can be your secret weapon. These store-brand alternatives often offer the same functionality as their name-brand counterparts at a fraction of the cost. From notebooks and folders to pens and pencils, the quality is often comparable, making them a budget-friendly choice.  Don’t be fooled by flashy packaging; focus on the features you need and prioritise saving money without sacrificing functionality.  With a little comparison shopping, you can find generic brands that meet your child’s needs and leave more room in your budget for other back-to-school essentials. Head to shops like Poundland, The Range, Home Bargains and B&M or even office supply stores for a great range of lower price stationery. 

10. Make Packed Lunches

Lunch boxes can be a healthy and cost-effective alternative to cafeteria food, but they require some planning. Embrace the batch-cooking concept! Cook a large pot of soup or a pan of roasted vegetables on the weekend to have ready-made lunch components throughout the week. Leftovers are your friend. Repurpose leftover grilled chicken or salmon into delicious salads or wraps. Involve your children in the preparation process. Let them choose healthy snacks and help assemble their lunches, fostering a sense of ownership and encouraging them to try new foods. By planning ahead, batch-cooking, and getting creative with leftovers, you can pack delicious, healthy, and budget-friendly lunches that your child will love.

We have also discovered that taking a packed lunch can save valuable time in a busy school dinner hall. With lots of mouths to feed and only a limited time in which to serve everyone, your child may spend most of their lunch break queuing and then barely have any time to eat and unwind before the afternoon session.

We have a great range of lunchbox ideas over on this post.

In conclusion, back-to-school shopping can often be a stressful and expensive time for parents. However, with a few simple tips and strategies, it is possible to save money and make the process more manageable. From creating a budget and sticking to it, to taking advantage of sales and discounts, parents have the power to save on their back-to-school shopping. Remember, it’s not always about buying the latest and most expensive items, but rather prioritising what is truly necessary for your child’s education. As the saying goes, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” So why not apply that mindset to your back-to-school shopping? Use these tips to not only save money but also instil valuable lessons in budgeting and prioritising in your children. 

As we look ahead to the upcoming school year, let’s strive to make smart and savvy choices when it comes to back-to-school shopping. And who knows, maybe those savings can go towards a well-deserved family holiday or college fund! As we continue to navigate through parenthood, let’s remember that every little bit counts and by making small changes, we can achieve big savings. So let’s take charge of our back-to-school shopping and make it a successful and cost-effective experience. As author Dave Ramsey once said, “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” Let’s put his words into action and take control of our back-to-school spending. Thank you for joining us on this journey to save money and make our children’s education a top priority. Remember, the savings don’t stop here – we can always come back to these tips and continue the conversation on how to make the most of our hard-earned money. Happy shopping, and happy saving!

Please do share this article to help other families save money on back-to-school expenses. If I’ve missed anything that you do to save money on school purchases, pop it in the comments section.

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