Ideas for making a smart budget for back to school. Learn where to find the best deals, when to buy and how to save money on clothes, supplies and more!Are you freaking out about your budget for back to school?  Even though we know it’s coming, it usually hits like a ton of bricks.  Last year, the average family spent a whopping $501 per child for supplies, clothes, shoes and electronics for #backtoschool!

Planning and shopping smarter can help you spend less.


Take a little time now to save a bunch of time and money later.


  • Supplies. Go through the supplies your kid drug home on the last day of school.  Mine came out with two, bulging, tearing trash bags!  See what’s usable for next year and stash it away.

⊕Mom Tip: Backpacks and lunch boxes don’t need to be replaced every year!  Use stain remover, throw them in the wash and they’ll look great.  If you have more than one child, get into an alternating schedule of buying new gear. 

  • Clothes.  Go through clothes drawer by drawer and see what still fits and what needs to be passed down.  If there’s something that still looks brand new but you bought it last year, chances are it’s not going to be worn next year either.  Let it go.  Make a list of anything you need to complete an outfit or that needs to be replaced.

⊕Mom Tip:  Last year’s dress can be next year’s tunic if you throw some leggings under it!

  • Shoes.  Again, do they have any shoes that will work for next year, even if it’s only for a few weeks?  Spreading the expenses out a bit will give your budget some relief.
  • Electronics.  Headphones and earbuds, right?  My girl can’t keep a pair for more than a few weeks.  Again, go through what you have and see what you can salvage for next year.


This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and buy something, I will receive a teensy commission. Rest assured that I will not recommend something that I would not use myself.  For more information, please see my disclosure page.

Tax Free Weekends

Our legislature did away with the tax free weekend in North Carolina a few years ago which is a real bummer.  But, I only live an hour an a half away from South Carolina who still has a tax free weekend in August, so I plan to take advantage of that. Does your state have a tax free weekend?  If so, get it on your calendar.  If not, check out the surrounding states if a trip is convenient.

Social Media

Follow your favorite stores on Facebook and Instagram.  Some stores offer special deals to their followers and most will post about sales, etc.  The top five stores for school supplies are:  Office Depot, Staples, Target, Walgreens and Walmart.

Save Now and Use Cash

If you have a few weeks before you need to start shopping, make a plan to put cash away every week or pay period for back to school.  Then, use only cash to shop.  This will keep you from going over budget on those extra-awesome hologram folders!

Ideas for making a smart budget for back to school. Learn where to find the best deals, when to buy and how to save money on clothes, supplies and more!

School Supplies

The average school supply list has 26 items on it!  Be prepared to provide not only pencils and paper but tissues and Clorox wipes, so many Clorox wipes.  Keep these things in mind:

  • Loss leaders.  Most stores will advertise one or two items each week that are so cheap the store might even lose money on it.  They’re counting on you to come in to buy that one thing and be drawn in to buying the whole list.  Don’t fall for it!  Check the ads for the big five stores listed above and take advantage of those deals.
  • Rebates and coupons.  Look for digital coupons and watch for rebate opportunites.
  • Brands.  Be careful about buying off-brand things.  Paper is paper, but Ticonderoga pencils are really way better than dollar store pencils and Crayola crayons are far superior to RoseArt.  Your teacher will appreciate you getting the real deal on those items.
  • Consolidate.  If you’re shopping for more than one kid, consolidate the supply lists into one master list.  This will make it easier to take advantage of bulk deals.

Ideas for making a smart budget for back to school. Learn where to find the best deals, when to buy and how to save money on clothes, supplies and more!


Go easy on buying a ton of new clothes, especially with littles.  I was so excited when Karly started kindergarten that I bought quite a few outfits throughout the summer.  Guess what?  She had grown out of several by the time school started!

In a warm climate, kids will still be wearing summer clothes for quite awhile, so there is no sense in getting jeans and sweaters right now.  After your inventory, you’ll know what they can still wear to school in the fall.

Another reason to buy minimal clothes is that you don’t know what the latest trend will be.  While this isn’t important to some kids, it is to others and it would be smart to wait and see what they just HAVE to have.

Focus on feeling confident the first week.  Think about what makes your child feel good about themselves.

  • Does he feel cool in UnderArmour?  Get a couple of new shirts to go with shorts he already has.
  • Does she love tees with ironic statements?  Grab a couple of those.
  • Will having a giant hair bow, custom made to match each outfit make you, I mean her, feel awesome?  Do that!

Do not feel pressure to buy an entire new wardrobe.  No matter what retailers would have you think, that is not the norm for regular people.  Get a couple of new things and gradually fill in throughout the seasons.

Ideas for making a smart budget for back to school. Learn where to find the best deals, when to buy and how to save money on clothes, supplies and more!Shoes

Ideally, every kid should have at least two pairs of shoes.  One of those needs to be a well-fitting, comfortable athletic shoe.  The other should be a slightly dressier shoe but still comfortable and casual.  For boys, try a sneaker that is kept cleaner and can be worn with khakis, and for girls a flat or sandal for dressier outfits will work.  If only one pair is in the budget, that’s cool too.  Don’t stress about it, just make sure they’re comfortable.

Do I stick with this?  No.  I’m a shoe fanatic.  Kim spends too much on shoes, don’t be like Kim.

I know I should say that you shouldn’t fall into the trap of getting your kid “THE” cool sneaker.  But, as I just bought a pair of rose gold Adidas for my little angel, I don’t really feel qualified to make that statement!  I should mention that she neither wanted or needed them but I wanted and needed for her to have them.  Again, maybe don’t be like Kim…


During elementary school, most kids don’t need much in the way of electronics.  Headphones or earbuds are pretty much a constant thing, but we haven’t had to buy anything else.  Don’t be tempted to get a fancy pair of headphones for young kids.  They will lose or break them almost instantly.

Phones are always a hot topic.  While tons of kids have them in elementary, it seems that middle school is a popular time to get your first phone.  If this is your plan, make sure you add this expense to your budget.

No matter what age your kids are or what types of electronics they use, they are probably on the internet.  Please have age-appropriate discussions and rules about safety.  Then do it again, and again.  I know it feels weird to talk about child predators with your littles, but knowledge is safety.  This article will give you some ideas about where to start.

Wrapping It Up

One final caution, don’t start shopping too early.  If you start throwing things in your cart because they might be on the supply list, you run the risk of getting things you don’t need.  Studies show that parents who start shopping before August spend almost a third more than those who wait.  Start planning and putting money away now, but save the shopping for later.

For more great budget info, check out this post.  Okay, get busy making your budget for back to school!

Kim Mayo