Whether your kids need spiral notebooks or notebook computers, all that back-to-school shopping can be expensive. Every year, the supply lists seem longer and the kids get pickier about what they’ll wear to school. No matter what’s on your shopping list, we’ve got tips to help make your back-to-school budget go further.

Know When To Shop

You can save a lot of money just by shopping at the right times, according to Stephanie Nelson, founder of the Coupon Mom website. Nelson began bargain hunting in earnest after her first child, now a teenager, was born. She’s become an expert on saving money, sharing her shopping savvy on The Oprah Winfrey Show and national news shows.

Her top tip: Hit the sales, but don’t buy more than you need. “People do a lot of overbuying before school,” she says.

Before you start shopping, Nelson recommends finding out whether your state offers a sales tax holiday for clothing and school supplies. (For a list, check with the Federation of Tax Administrators.) Many stores schedule big sales to coincide with sales tax holidays, allowing you to save even more.

Resist the urge to do all your shopping at one time. You can save big bucks on basic necessities by buying them when stores offer the deepest discounts, Nelson says. The best deals on school supplies can be had at back-to-school time. Stock up on everyday items like pencils, notebooks, and loose-leaf paper. Try to buy enough of these basics to last through the school year; they’ll cost more mid-semester.

You can get some of the best deals of the year on shoes before school starts, too. Several chain shoe stores have “buy one, get one half-off” sales, making it a good time for families to buy. But don’t feel pressured to buy all your child’s school clothes before the first day of class. “The stores act like they’re having big sales in August for school clothes, but the reality is that they’re going to be marking things down in September,” Nelson says.

Because the weather is still warm when her sons’ classes start in August, Nelson takes them to buy a few items off the summer sale racks. They shop for fall clothes a few weeks later, when stores put them on sale. By then, her kids have decided what types of trendy clothes they want to wear, and those items are more likely to be marked down.

Hunt for Bargains

With all the things you need to get done at back-to-school time, it can be tempting to shop for convenience rather than search for the best deals. But Nelson found that a little planning at home can result in savings at the stores. She uses store sale circulars and the Internet to find the lowest prices. She earned her nickname, the “Coupon Mom,” by combining coupons with sale prices to get even better deals.

To save more on school supplies, find out whether any stores in your area match competitors’ prices. Then check out multiple store circulars to find the lowest price on each item you’ll need. Take the circulars with you to that store to get the lowest price without driving all over town.

If your child is determined to buy expensive brand-name jeans, you can use a price-comparison website to find the lowest price on the brand in your area. Some sites also compare in-store prices with online prices. If you’re shopping at regular retail stores, look for coupons before you go. Check store websites and coupon sites for printable coupons.

Consider shopping at secondhand stores. Young kids grow out of clothes so fast that consignment stores are a good option for gently worn items at a low cost. Consignment stores are getting a lot of quality inventory because more people are cleaning out closets in hopes of making extra cash, Nelson says. Teenagers may enjoy creating their own individual look with thrift shop finds.

Start With a Plan

Cost isn’t the only factor to consider when shopping for your child’s school clothes and supplies. Think about how much use your child will get out of an item before buying it. Limit the number of trendy clothing items older kids get if it’s likely they’ll tire of the clothes before they wear out. That’s less of a concern with younger kids.

Also, consider cost vs. quality. You don’t always save money by buying the cheapest product. Nelson found it cost less over time to buy each son a more expensive backpack that could be washed and reused for several years “instead of a cheap one that fell apart.”

Helpful Sites

A little Internet surfing can result in big savings at the cash register. Coupon Mom Stephanie Nelson recommends these sites for finding the best deals.

Mall Websites

Sign up for email newsletters from local malls and outlet malls. “They send out special promotions and coupons that you can print right from the mall website,” Nelson says.


View store circulars for your area, search for the lowest prices offered at local stores, and compare in-store prices with online deals.

Wow Coupons

Search the site for current coupons for hundreds of stores.

Coupon Mom

Find coupon codes for discounts at online retailers through Nelson’s site.