A Frugal Daughter’s Guide to Back to School Shopping

The following guest post is from my daughter, Frugal Daughter. After listening to her dad’s frugal rants for the last ten years, she was bound to inherit a little frugality herself. I think she’s a pretty good writer, too (continuity plan in place…check!).

First of all, let me mention that back to school shopping is a little hard. Trying to look for sales, finding the best deals, and finding the correct sizes. Hopefully, with these tips, your back to school shopping for clothes, shoes, and supplies will be easier.

10 Ways to Save On Back to School Shopping

1. Go through your clothes in your drawers and your closet. Organize all clothes depending on what type they are. For example, you might have a sock drawer or a pajamas drawer. This way when it is time to go shopping, you can know what you need to buy so you don’t purchase things that you may not need in the next two or three months.

2. Go through your catalogs or magazines and look for any items that might be on sale or on clearance. Weekly sales fliers from the Sunday newspaper will also help you save money on your purchases.

3. Avoid the danger of designer labels. Designer clothes are basically the same as regular clothes, but their prices are outrageous. Avoid designer labels. (Frugal Dad says no designer clothes for me – well, most of the time!)

4. Start a back to school fund or savings account. Put money in it throughout the year, and you will be glad you saved all that money for supplies, clothes, and shoes when the new school year rolls around.

5. Give away clothes that are too small for you to wear. Local places such as The Salvation Army and Goodwill will take clothing donations. Try doing this instead of throwing them away. Help and bless just by giving away old clothes.

6. Take your kids with you when it’s time for back to school shopping. If parents try to shop by themselves, they are more likely to buy the wrong size or purchase something kids won’t like. This is one of the reasons kids need to go with parents to save you time and money.

7. If you are willing to fight the crowd and shop during Tax Free holidays (something my Dad avoids every year), you might save some money on large purchases. With the advantage of no tax on products, it’s a good deal.

8. If you can, try to wait a couple of days or even a week after the first day of school to do your shopping. Some stores may have better sales after school starts. You might save a lot of money on products that were more expensive just a week before.

9. When it is time to go shoe shopping, try to buy at least two pairs. If your child plays a sport, such as basketball, then get them a comfy pair of basketball shoes. By switching shoes every few days they will last longer.

10. This is my last tip, but a very important one. In fact this may be the most helpful tip of all. My mom and I figured this one out years ago. Stock up on your school supplies throughout the summer months. For example, if your child needs crayons and notebooks for a writing class, stock up on this stuff during the summer and store it in an empty crate. When they need a new notebook, or a new pack of crayons, instead of going back to store when nothing is on sale, you “shop” from your crate at home.

Can anyone add any extra tips for saving on back to school shopping?


  1. Or you could shop at the Salvation Army and Goodwill . We also have designer consignment shops where I live.

  2. Good article! Having a good sense of finances early on definitely helps out the long road ahead.

    When I was in high school, we had a uniform policy for the public school system. What I don’t get why there is a need to do “back-to-school” shopping in the first place.

    For 4 years in high school,
    1. I wore the same shirts and pants,
    2. I carried the same backpack,
    3. I used the same pencils (I bought a pack of 25 or so my freshman year), and
    4. I used the same pens (I got these for free when I set up a checking account),

    My parents also bought a bunch of notebooks for us (there are 4 syblings). Buying in bulk for the notebooks saved TONS of money! We never had to go back to the store to purchase more notebooks.

  3. Great post frugal daughter!!! I do follow many of your suggestions, but you are so wise to realize all of this at such a young age.

    I love the sales they have at Target/CVS/Staples on pens and notepads and such. If you watch the Sunday circulars, you can get a lot of items dirt cheap. I also buy extra to donate to fundraisers like ‘stuff a bus’ where they collect supplies for schools in need.

    Regarding school clothes, we don’t even go until October, when my kids usually start wearing pants. My kids grow out of jeans so quickly, so I wait as long as possible.

    Your storage crate of supplies is a great one. As a parent, I appreciate having the supplies here all the time instead of having to run out at the last second to pick up this or that.

    Hope you stop by more often!

  4. Regarding Tax Free Days, there might be better reasons to avoid them besides than the crowds. I suspect you might be able to get a better deal at another time. These Tax Free Days push the demand up so prices don’t have to be as low to entice buyers. I have seen no studies, but I suspect the weekend after might be a better time to shop. Of course the price of some items like pencils probably stay fairly constant.

  5. I prefer buying in bulk and using coupons. They are most likely to lose their pens, pencils and other stuff anyway,at least we still have some spares. And coupons help lessen the cost.

  6. We do a lot of online shopping for clothing. No sales tax, most times shipping is free (I won’t buy if shipping isn’t free) and terrific coupons can be had just for signing up on mailing lists or doing a google search (I use a junk email addy for signing up so I am not bombarded with spam) Also, I don’t waste gas driving from store to store or to the mall. Returns are super easy and free on most sites I shop or I shop where there is a local store such as Target so I can return to the store if I don’t like it. I also like that the items I get have not be fondled or tried on by multiple people in the stores.

    • Most likely, there is tax on the items you buy online. In my state, online purchases that do not include sales tax are subject to a use tax that is computed and remitted on the annual state tax return.

  7. Good post!
    Anthony – part of the reason is most kid’s don’t take care of their stuff. I have to go to a junior high school regularly and teachers have BUCKETS of colored pencils they have foudn on the hallway floor. Same goes for pens & pencils. The last day of school I had to be there for some reason and I joke you not I got 6 or 7 good, high end trapper keeper type binders – with lots of assorted schools supplies inside them, lots of un-used folders, shoes with the tags still on, an expensive photo album, two lunch bags and more. To be on the safe side, we sanitized everything but the only thing i need to get for my kid’s this year is a pair of scissors. Everything else on their school list was in those fancy binders.
    The Photo album it turns out is a really expensive one that can be expanded to 200+ pages so the kids and I have been moving our family photos to that as a summer project. But anyway, it’s because 80-90% of kids either loose or throw out everything. It’s like they think money grows on trees. The custodians have even better tales to tell.

    We have a large lidded basket for office & school supplies and when I find anything on clearance I grab ten and put them in the basket. For what ever reason in June I found a bunch of those folders with the bendable metal things inside (to hold notebook paper) for three cents a piece. So I grabbed a handful in assorted colors – probably enough to see all my boys into Junior high. Usually back to school stuff goes on clearance in October and I stock up then. The basket is very nice because when someone runs out of something in December we don’t have to make a special trip to the store.

  8. My kids are out of college now, and there are still some leftover’s in the supply stash that I created almost 20 years ago. Early August seems to be the best time to get inexpensive notebooks, pens, etc., and I would pick up about $4-$5 worth of supplies every year to replenish.
    We never bought new pants for my son until it was cold enough to wear them as he grew taller and taller. My daughter had a budget and did very well at sales all through the year.
    I think the hardest expense was the graphing calculator that kids need, and they really do need it. I’ve been fortunate and could afford them, but there are so many people trying to make ends meet that I would hope there are loaner programs at some schools.

  9. Good job Frugal Daughter!

    I buy notepads and loose paper in bulk when on sale. I do the same with office supplies if I ever find them cheaper than Costco. (Costco has a few items I don’t want to live without like sticky notes and gel pens.)

    I tried dollar store pens, and they seemed to break quickly and stop working right away. Other than pens, you cn find some cheap stuff at dollar stores that last a long time like rulers, pencil cases, pencils, etc.

  10. Great post Frugal Daughter!

    My husband is a teacher in a low-income district, so we end up personally providing the supplies for almost half the kids every year. Those back-to-school specials for pennies and super sales at Walmart are the only way we keep it affordable.

    I’m not associated with schools, but I do use Tax Free Weekend to buy my business slacks and any expensive wardrobe items that have worn out.

    Again, great post!

  11. Great post! Awesome job Frugal Daughter!
    I have two daughters and they are much more interested in my blog than my legal career (me too). They will be writing on my blog before I know it.

  12. Great Job Frugal Daughter!

    However, I must add having lived in 38 spots and dealt with many districts. The needs for some are diffrent than the needs of others.
    My own children have graduated grad school however, when the time came and they were in high school the district we were in was very high end, it was a public school, however, it was more or less private simply by the fact that you must be able to afford to live in the district. I was married at the time to an abusive spouse who earned $300K per year but would not give me a penny for the children. Supply list came home with notes that if everything was not purchased and in order by a date (four days out) grades would be docked. I did all types of odd jobs to afford the school supplies, the back to school clothes (in many districts if you do not have designer labels you could be beat on so all is not the same in every land)

    Now I live in a district that I teach in the kids are so poor many do not get to eat three meals per day. School supply list are ignored , parents do not have the money for school supplies and they know that somehow the school will provide. Clothing is dontated to these families from the churches during the winter a child might miss days (due to the fact that they do not have shoes or a coat) Life is not fair and it certainly is not one size fits all rules or back to school shopping.

    One guide I followed when my friends of middle classes asked what they should spend on a childs back to school clothes I stated money would vary but the wardrobe should likely equal what the clothes closet gave out.

    Girl :
    5 pairs of underware
    3 bras
    7 pairs of socks
    5 pants (one Khaki, three blue jean, one black dress pair)
    10 shirts (5 short sleeved, 5 long sleeved)
    one sweater
    one dress
    one jacket
    one pair of shoes
    one purse
    one back pack

    This lasted unitl the winter when they could return for :
    One coat
    One pair of boots
    One pair of gloves
    One hat
    One scarf

    In the spring they got :
    3 pair of shorts
    One beach towel
    one bathing suit
    one beach tote
    one pair of flip flops
    one pair of sunglasses

    Boys got one suit instead of a dress

    Now if this is what our tax dollars can pay for then I figured my kids should get this amount.

  13. I think the best places to shop are online. Why spend the time and money going to stores when you can easily visit those same stores online? I think more shoppers would be happier if they shop online.

  14. Buy good quality items so that they last longer. I had been buying character back packs and lunch bags for my girls and found that they wore out by the end of the school year. Last year I purchased two good quality backpacks and lunch bags at time when back to school stuff was marked down. These items are still in great condition and my girls will probably get at least two more years out of them for almost the same cost as those character ones I used to buy. Think about what other items you could apply this theory to.

  15. Great article! I love, love, love buying throughout the summer for the basics in clothing and supplies. Then when the school issues it’s grade specific supply request, I have the majority of what I need. I also like to stock up on a few things for ‘just in case’ such as poster board, glue sticks, index cards or anything generic that could be used for a school project. Always shop from the crate first! It saves a ton of money—and a lot of time and headache.

  16. New school supplies are one of the great joys in life. Doesn’t quite make starting school again worth it, but there’s nothing like a shiny new eraser.

    I do remember one year my mom had me take my sister back to school shopping. She wanted an expensive back-pack (arguing it was good quality) and I said she could have it instead of the cheap one if she were willing to wear it as many years as she could get reasonably priced backpacks at the same price. The next year she’d thought I had forgotten, but I hadn’t, so no new backpack. The backpack was still in really good shape too. I’d like to think that was a learning experience, but I’m not sure what she learned…

  17. As a teacher- please buy supplies (pencils,crayons…) at the beginning of the year. The prices are the cheapest right now. Believe me- a trapper keeper that is $10. now will be $20 in two months (I end up buying one for one or two kids every year).
    Clothes- they could be bought anytime (and I would wait until long pants are on sale)
    Target has 70% off sales on all school stuff about three weeks after school begins in your area.
    The end of the year collection is definitely a teacher thing- I actually don’t have to spend my money to get supplies of the next year. To be honest, I would resent a parent taking things from locker clean out unless it was from their own kid! I need it for the kid that cannot afford it next year. One wealthy school I worked at collected things and sent them to their sister school in an orphanage in Thailand!

  18. Saving money on school supplies is my family’s priority. We have 6 children and kids can get expensive.

  19. I find that a lot of students throw away or misplace left over supplies from the prior school year. Whether it’s pens, pencils, rulers, notebooks etc – many children have a “school is out” mentality during June & leave these supplies in their lockers or throw them in the trash can – never to be found. These supplies can actually be reused next year which will result in savings.

  20. I loved this post! Great job Frugal Daughter (this is my first introduction to the site!) I am excited to explore more.

    We always stock up on home supplies during back to school- my kids are not school agers yet, but we still take a few things to preschool every year. But we also use a lot of these supplies at the house. I don’t homeschool, but I expect the kids to practice at home.

    We buy crayons, notebooks, copy paper, pens (for Dad’s work truck) etc while they’re on sale. Then I also scope out the after school clearance stuff too. It is unbeleivable that items that can be sold all year long are clearanced a week or so after school starts! I do most of my stocking up when I find things on clearance.

    Good job on the post again!!

  21. Great article! I always shop at the end of the season and save for the next year….but I only have a 2yr old so I can still guesstimate while he is young!

    Robyn~Common Sense Saves Money

  22. Great post, Frugal Daughter!

    I have a daughter of my own, and went shopping for school items last month, finding some great deals on supplies. Even I (Dad) bought a 60-page composition book for 25 cents, and bought one for both my young daughter as well as my father. Three generations capitalizing on summer school supply bargains!

  23. Great tips!

    You are absolutely right about buying supplies a few weeks after schools started. I usually wait about two weeks after it’s started because you don’t really need much (just a paper, pen and pencil) and this way you can figure out what exactly you need, and what is an unnecessary purchase!

    I’m hoping to save more this year, thanks!

  24. There’s something I don’t understand about tip #9. If you have 2 pairs of shoes and you wear each of them 50% of the time, do they really last more than twice as long? I hope so because if it’s not the case, I can’t see the saving!

  25. Many good tips!

    Regarding the tax free sales, look at other nearby state’s tax policies. Here in PA we have many people come from NY and even Canada since there is no tax on clothing here. It might be worth a couple hour drive for a big shopping trip.

    Also check out outlet malls if there is one near you as well as consignment shops. These are second hand clothes but they are all name brand and in good condition since they are selective in what they take. And also, you can often sell the clothes you have outgrown here if they are still in style.

    And everyone who is stocking up on cheap school supplies… In 3rd world countries, a box of crayons or pencils can cost up to a week’s wages so they appreciate everything we can send them. Check out Operation Christmas Child which sends toys and supplies to other countries.

  26. As a teacher I’ve found that buying seasonal (Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc..) pencils and pens and other itemsafter the holiday makes them dirt cheap. My students don’t care if they get a Christmas pencil in March. It is a pencil and it writes!

  27. @JFR – The reason why two pairs of shoes last more than twice as long as one pair of shoes is that shoes get damp from sweat and don’t adequately dry out if you wear them every day. So they wear out more quickly. The idea is that you wear the shoes on alternating days so that each pair of shoes gets an extra day to dry out before wearing them again. That’s what I’ve been told anyway! 🙂

  28. I agree about waiting until after school starts. It’s still hot enough for shorts and tees when school starts. My son will be in 2nd grade this year, and so far, we have avoided going “back to school shopping.” Hopefully he can remain ignorant of this particularity. I buy school supplies when they are on sale, and therefore only need the odd things that show up on his supplies list (in the middle of the summer, on the school’s website) like wipes, or zip-lock bags. I also supplement his clothes supply whenever needed, so it’s an ongoing and more affordable task. We rely heavily on hand-me-downs, and so far, he hasn’t seemed to mind at all. I do buy new shoes for the beginning of school, although not necessarily before school starts. He’s hard on shoes, and has a wide foot, so not too many hand-me-downs there. I don’t understand the concept of buying two pairs, though. If they last twice as long, isn’t that the same as buying 2 pairs consecutively during that same time frame?

  29. I have a friend whose daughter hates wearing the same thing more than a couple of times, but since this isn’t cost effective, she’s worked out a pretty nifty system. There’s a consignment shop in town that will pay up front for any clothes that you bring in, so she brings in a bag of old stuff and shops in the store with the money that she gets from it. The next month, when she’s tired of those clothes, she does it all over again. She’s basically made a one time investment in clothing, and constantly gets new stuff for it.