Stressed Over the Cost of Back-to-School Shopping? Here Are Ways to Save

Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Stores are already replacing their summer-themed displays with backpacks, lunch bags, notebooks and folders.

Back-to-school season is quickly sneaking up on us, and parents are stressing out over the upcoming costs.

The National Retail Federation surveyed 7,320 consumers and found parents with kids in elementary through high school expect to spend an average of about $685 on back-to-school shopping this year. New school clothes will take up the biggest chunk of spending — about $237.

Parents also planned to spend about $187 on electronics, $139 on shoes and $122 on school supplies.

With schools requiring a specific list of gear and kids quickly outgrowing their old clothes and shoes, much of this spending seems to qualify as a need, not a want. Which makes cash-strapped parents nervous.

The 2018 Coinstar Back-to-School Survey, an unrelated survey on the same topic, asked 1,001 parents about their school shopping plans. Seventy percent said back-to-school shopping is stressful. Two-thirds of respondents said they felt like school costs were on the rise.

Although 62% of those surveyed say they use a budget when school shopping, a sizable chunk also say they go over budget. Thirty-two percent of parents who shopped alone spent more than planned, but 49% of those who shopped with their children overspent. It’s hard to say no when your kids are right there pleading for the latest trend.

Besides keeping your children home while you shop, there are other ways to curb your back-to-school spending.

Seek out sales, clip coupons, take a pass on pricy brands and shop at secondhand stores to score better deals. Get some tips from this mom who bought her two kids school clothes for less than $40 and school supplies for less than $20. Shop during a sales-tax holiday to shave some dollars off your total. Deal stacking can also help you save.

Look for backpack giveaways in your area. Charities, churches and nonprofit organizations may run school-supply drives where community members donate book bags and other supplies to those in need. Contact your local Salvation Army or United Way to see if they are planning a giveaway — or know of any other groups hosting one. Your local newspaper or television station may promote upcoming school-supply drives. Reach out to the organizers if you’re in need.

Some parents also ask their older children to chip in, especially if they are influencing the spending.The National Retail Federation’s survey found preteens will spend an average of $25 and teens will spend about $36 of their own money on school gear. It’s not a lot, but a little contribution is better than nothing. Other parents turn to extended family for help. One-third of respondents from Coinstar’s back-to-school survey said they’ve borrowed money from their child’s grandparent to afford school gear.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.