Back-to-School Shopping on a budget – 6 money-saving tips

Can you believe it is almost that time already?!  I think I’m in denial! I do not want to go back-to-school shopping 🙁  Doesn’t that officially mark the end of summer?

When the stores began stocking back-to-school supplies I swore on all that was holy that I would NOT purchase one marker, backpack or pencil case until mid-August! Sadly I only hung on until July 29th (insert eye-roll here).

I caved under the pressure of Target’s amazing merchandising and beautifully accessorized backpack/lunch kit/key chains and what have you…but on our way to the mothership Target my daughter informed me that the specific binder she “needed” was at Walmart.



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With us still working on a pretty tight budget until we finish baby step 2 my wallet was happy to oblige and off we went!

Now if you’re a Mom you know how much we dread back-to-school shopping. We start off with a list and come home with enough crap to start our own office supply store.  The kids go crazy and start throwing everything into the cart and eventually you agree just to make the begging and whining stop…


Back-to-School Shopping: How to save money and make your kids happy - Life of Stones


I wanted this year to be different.   I wanted to make my kids happy and buy them fun supplies to [hopefully] get them excited for school so we felt good about sending them off and finally having a few minutes to watch reality TV clean the house again!

I wanted to share a few simple tips that worked for us this year.  We had no fighting, no crying and I didn’t hear “that’s not fair” even once…. #winning!


Life of Stones school picture



Here are my six tips to keep your sanity and ensure you and your kids still like one another after you finish school shopping!  And here is a bonus:  when going back-to-school shopping, if at all possible, head to the stores as early as possible Monday through Thursday.  They will be less busy and guarantee you don’t have to fight 8 other moms for the last glue stick!



1 | Buy in bulk

Now, this would normally be a no-brainer but since being strict with our budgeting this year I’ve paid much more attention to prices and noticed that some things sold in multiples are actually more expensive than their single counterparts.  What the heck is that about!??!

Ex: a few months ago my kids wanted refills for their most favorite lead pencils (ya know…because it snaps off and breaks every single time they write) and I saw a 3-pack at Walmart.  Instinctively I grabbed it  (assuming it was cheaper per piece) but noticed it seemed pricey compared to the single pack. I whipped out my trusty iPhone calculator and discovered the 3-pack actually cost more per pack than to buy them individually?!

The bulk-ish items I saw in the back-to-school section seemed to be the better buy!  So, IF the bulk price is cheaper per piece than you’ll save some money!



2 | Reuse backpacks and lunch boxes from last year (gasp)

I know, I know.  This sounds cheap…but would you believe this was actually my kids’ idea?  I was floored!  I guess I had always purchased and new backpack and lunchbox each year because I felt that was what I was supposed to do… but when my daughter told me that her backpack was in perfect shape and she still loved the look of it I couldn’t believe it.


I took a look at it and it really was in near perfect shape and has the cutest design that really reflects her personality!.  If your child’s backpack is still in great shape don’t be afraid to have them reuse it another year!  Especially if it still reflects their style and interests!

Take these few steps to spruce it up and it’ll be like new again:

    • Make sure the backpack is empty and use a vacuum attachment to clean out any crumbs, dust, etc.  Check to see if it has a care label, which will advise you how your particular backpack should be cared for.
    • Treat any stains using a gentle stain-remover.  I wouldn’t use chemicals unless you first test them on a small inconspicuous area of the pack.  I recommend this incredible (and super cheap) old-school stain remover.  I discovered this a few months ago and have used it exclusively.  Plus, it lasts forever!  Don’t buy this on Amazon!  Go to Walmart and it will cost you under $1.00!!
    • Put the backpack in a mesh laundry bag to protect it and put it in the washer.  Use cold water and a short cycle.  (If the bag has a lot of detail (beading, glitter, embroidery) you should opt to hand-wash instead).  You can also use this method for the fabric lunch containers as well.
    • Do NOT put in the dryer.  Hang somewhere with all compartments wide open and allow to air dry.
    • Using a pair of small detail scissors trim any loose threads that are appearing.  This will ensure they don’t pull and create a hole.


Life of Stones school pic


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3 | Compare prices in different sections of the same store

I’m not sure if this was the case at the particular Walmart I was in this week school shopping, but what I can tell you is that I have seen Target price the exact same item differently in promo sections vs. the item’s typical department placement.

Let me explain: a few months back Target had an endcap display with “slime ingredients”.  I only noticed it because Gracyn, an avid slime maker, squealed with excitement and just HAD TO HAVE IT ALL…it included a lifetime supply of Elmer’s Glue, contact solution, shaving cream, and some smaller bottles of glue.

I noticed that the small bottles seemed expensive and out of curiosity checked two aisles over where the glue lived and wouldn’t you know, they were cheaper. The same exact size bottles were marked up on the endcap?!  It wasn’t a huge amount difference, but it was noticeable and enough to make me double-check promo items just to see if I’m being scammed!

Had I had more time when we did our shopping, I would have checked out a few items and compared just to be sure!



4 | Dress up “plain” items

We ended up not getting the giant Rolls Royce of binders because it didn’t appear to be necessary this year; however, I was able to talk my daughter (quite easily mind you) away from the fancier, higher priced binders with designs on them by telling her if she gets the plain colored ones I would let her pick out a pack of adhesive patches to decorate them.

We ended up finding these adorable ones on Amazon so we ordered those and she was happy to have a one-of-a-kind binder that really expressed her personality!


Back to school shopping can get expensive! This article gave me some awesome money-saving tips that I hadn't thought of before! Get some awesome back-to-school hacks to help you do school shopping on a budget!!!



5 | Only purchase what you need

Some of you supermoms may be against bribery.  I, however, proudly display this skill as a badge of honor.  I’m totally cool with it…within reason.  In our house, we really try to teach our children “you are responsible for your own actions”.  I think bribery really reinforces this.

I lay down the ground rules right off the bat so everyone knows what to expect.  I was a little worried that my son was going to be grumpy and bummed about not getting to pick out any school supplies.  I promised him if he behaved and didn’t complain about it “not being fair” then he would get to pick out a small (under $5) item at the end of the trip.  He ended up picking out a pack of his favorite pencils and was really excited.  I was happy because I still made out by not having to purchase him a whole list as well.

Later he also mentioned wanting to use his backpack from last year as well and he got a new lunchbox also since his from last year completely fell apart.



6 | Check the sales

I know this one is pretty obvious but of course, depending on where you shop you can save a substantial amount of money just off the sticker price.  Personally, I think Walmart is the cheapest, then Target.  Places like Staples will rob you normally, but they have some great back-to-school deals!

I love a good bargain, but I value my time too much to go flipping through all the flyers.  I am a big Cartwheel fan, for sure, and I’ve saved some decent money at Kohl’s for clothes/backpacks/shoes before too!  If you have their credit card try and stack their coupons and discounts as well.

Lastly, I know lots of places will price match.  I don’t bother with this method but if you’re willing to put in the work it can really pay off sometimes!

Wishing you an easy, painless and uneventful back-to-school shopping this year!  I hope you find some of these tips helpful when navigating this bittersweet day!  It’s sad when summer comes to an end and you realize your children (and you) are another year older and you have a tear in your eye putting them on the bus that first day…and then you realize you can breathe again!!! Right after you pack those dang lunches…

Happy Shopping 🙂


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  1. Great suggestions! Thank you for sharing, I haven’t started our school shopping yet (LOL) So I read this at the perfect time! My kids start Aug. 29, so I’ll be hitting the stores soon!

  2. great ideas! also i love how your blog looks, and how you have a subscribe in the middle if the post, after people have read a bit and know what theyre getting. good work!

  3. I’ll be watching the backpacks and lunch boxes at the end of the year. Hopefully they will hold out for one more! I definitely find that the character backpacks and lunch boxes don’t last as long as some of the others. I try to guide my kids away whenever they get too close to them. Lol!

  4. Great tips for saving big! And I had to laugh about bribing the kids. Maybe we could rename it something cool like rewarding for good behavior or something. 😉

  5. It’s funny how we as parents feel honor bound to buy that new backpack each year! Maybe because our parents got them for us when we were kids, too…????????

  6. I love this. I feel like with “back to school” being a big deal, almost like a holiday in stores, it is expected that we as parents buy all new items for our kids each year. We reuse until it is worn out.

  7. Good tips! We’ve got a few years before we have to worry about school supplies but I recently found out my in laws buy all the supplies for all the grandkids every year! Score!

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