School is almost in session and with the excitement of sending kids back to the classroom in person comes record spending on supplies and clothing.
In fact, the National Retail Federation’s annual 2021 Back-to-School survey found that families with children in grades K through 12 will dish out a whopping $848 on supplies, clothing, and electronics, up almost $60 from the previous year.
If you’re already carrying credit card debt, the back-to-school spending frenzy may be a cause for stress. But you don’t have to add to your debt to get your children ready for school.
Here are 9 school shopping hacks to help you get your kids classroom-ready without racking up a credit card balance.
1. Put Leftover Supplies to Work
Before you run to the store to check items off your kid’s school shopping list, take inventory of which supplies you still have from last year. Items such as used crayons and folders and even partially used notebooks are perfectly suitable for classroom work.
If your kids were mostly distance learning last year, recycle their nearly new backpack and lunch tote for the upcoming school year. Reusing supplies can offset your total back-to-school expenses so you don’t add more purchases to your debt burden.
2. Swap Before Buying
Thanks to unpredictable growth spurts, your child may need some new clothes and shoes for school. But this doesn’t mean you have to whip out your credit card to get your son or daughter classroom ready.
Instead of buying brand new, a much more cost-friendly and eco-conscious way to update your kid’s wardrobe is to swap through sites like The Swoondle Society, where you trade in outgrown clothing for credits that can be applied to like-new fashion for both boys and girls. You pay per trade or can sign up for a membership for unlimited trading access.
Otherwise, consider setting up a swap with other families in your area or check Facebook to see if there are any Buy Nothing groups in your community where you may be able to score free school items.
3. Peruse Secondhand Sites
The beauty of buying clothing and other school items from resale sites is that no one has to know where you purchased these goods, and you’re saving around 50% to 70% off regular retail prices. Browse secondhand clothing sites like Poshmark or Tradesy to find gently used name-brand clothing for your kids at a fraction of store prices.
Consider buying refurbished gadgets like laptops and tablets from sites like Dell Outlet, Best Buy’s Outlet, or Newegg.com. Just make sure your items come with a warranty and return policy for added peace of mind.
4. Redeem Credit Card Rewards
Around 31% of credit cardholders have never redeemed their rewards, and if you are sitting on any rewards, including cash back, points, or miles, you could be missing out on free money.
This is a good time to review your accounts and use rewards to help offset school purchases, especially if any rewards are set to expire.
For instance, you can turn miles into gift cards to office supply or clothing retailers or redeem points for backpacks or tech items. Spend time reviewing your various credit card portals and retail loyalty programs because you may have rewards available to use for future purchases.
5. Compare Competitor Prices
Plenty of deals are offered during the back-to-school shopping rush, but don’t assume the sale price is the best price. A little extra research can go a long way in helping you save even more.
First, always compare prices to see if you can get the same item for less at a competitor store. Second, look for coupons through sites like Coupon Follow, which compile back-to-school promo codes all on one page to help you quickly find the best deals.
6. Limit Impulse Purchases
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of sending your kids back to school. That enthusiasm can lease you to buy more than you need, especially when you’re surrounded by tempting sales. But giving in to impulse purchases can make your debt even harder to dig out of.
Think twice before taking advantage of those buy more, save more sales. Many of these tiered deals give rise to purchasing more than you really need. And no matter how much you’re saving, you’re still spending more, so stick to your list and only buy what is necessary.
7. Stick With Generic Items
Most big-box retailers offer their own brands of school supplies with savings of around 30% compared with prices for name-brand options. Even though your kid’s teacher may identify a name-brand school item on the supply list, such as Crayola crayons or Elmer’s glue, you don’t have to stick to that brand. Consider going with generic options to cut costs.
You can even save on clothing by sticking with store-brand options. For instance, Walmart’s Garanimals line of clothing and shoes offers tops and pants for as little as $4 each and shoes for around $6 to $10 a pair.
8. Stock Up On Summer Clearance Clothing
Clothing stores have already begun promoting fall fashion. And though you will see some slight discounts of around 10% to 20% ahead of school starting, you can save even more by sticking to the clearance racks.
Most major retailers will be clearing out summer clothing and you can find amazing deals on everything from dresses to T-shirts to tank tops for around 60% to 70% off.
Remember that September still has plenty of warm days ahead, and many of these summer clothing staples can be worn through winter by layering them. Shopping for off-season clothing items is a great way to get your kids plenty of new looks on the cheap.
You may even consider buying a few items for the next summer season by sizing up!
9. Hold Off For Deeper Discounts
Retailers will make you think you have to buy everything for school before the first bell rings, but the reality is you can and should wait as demand and prices drop.
Scoop up reduced-price school supplies, including everything from notebooks to backpacks, in September when retailers clear store shelves to make room for fall merchandise. You will also see deals on older smartphone models in late September when Apple releases its latest iPhone.
Meanwhile, October will deliver sales on fall clothing and denim, and Black Friday is the next best time to snag a laptop, tablet, or pair of headphones for less. As long as you have items to get through the next few months of school, hold off and make do with what you have until the better sales come.