School starts this week! Where has the summer gone!? While many people are scrambling to snag all of the best back-to-school sales, we are taking our time enjoying the last few days of summer. When it comes to back-to-school shopping, we take it pretty easy.
If you’re looking for ways to save on back-to-school shopping, staying home may be your best bet. While we do some shopping at the end of the summer, we keep it to a minimum. We focus on things that the kids need, instead of buying everything “just because.”
Here are some things we’re not buying, and some things we are!
What We’re Not Buying
A Whole New Wardrobe
I have been buying clothes as needed, mostly at thrift stores and online from Thredup and Schoola. I have the clothes stashed away so they’ll be new to my kids. They also have plenty of good clothes from *gasp* last year that still fit. It’s fun to have a “new” outfit on the first day, but an entire new wardrobe is not a tradition we follow.
Several years ago before I had any kids in school. I found a fabulous deal on Lands End backpacks so I bought two and gave them to my older two for Christmas. They felt so grown up to have their own backpacks. Because they are high quality (not cheap, disposable quality), they can easily last through all of elementary school. Even if you didn’t invest in quality backpacks yet, if last year’s backpacks are still functional, then pass on a new one.
Packing a lunch is definitely the frugal way to go for kids and adults alike. When I got the great deal on backpacks, I got matching lunch boxes as well. I can’t remember the exact price, just that it was awesome. It was sometime in November or December, which is why they were Christmas gifts. If last year’s lunch box is still good, then use it again this year!
My kids all have tennis shoes, dress shoes and sandals that fit them. They aren’t shiny and new, but they work just fine, so there’s no sense in getting new ones. I try to keep an eye out for good shoes before the kids need them and then I’ll stash them away until their current shoes don’t fit or get thrashed.
What We Are Buying
Instead of sending juice boxes with my kids or having them buy milk, I send them with water. In the past, I have sent cheap water bottles or sippy cup style bottles, but most of them didn’t hold up or were had to clean and grew mold. This time, I’m buying 16oz Nalgene bottles with screw-on lids. We have a large collection of quart-size Nalgene bottles and love them. The smaller size will be perfect for their lunch boxes and I’m using Swagbucks credits to pay for them!
Side note on milk: Did you realize that if you pay $.50 for a half pint of school milk, you are paying $8 per gallon? Yikes! I had a reader tell me that she fills a reusable bottle up half way with milk and freezes it the night before, then fills the rest with milk in the morning. Perfect!
I like to stock up on school supplies while they’re super cheap. My kids don’t get their supply list until school actually starts, so I can’t get started on it yet. When I do buy the supplies, I avoid characters branded items and stick to solid classics. Not only is it cheaper, but I prefer a clean, neat look to being an advertisement.
How About You?
- What back-to-school items are you buying or not buying?
- Do you feel pressure to buy all new things for your kids?
This post contains affiliate links. For more info, see my disclosure policy.
One thing that saves us a heap of money is school uniforms. Our kids’ school has a very simple uniform (navy pants, white or navy polo, navy jumper in the winter) and even if we buy all the items new, pants are $6/pair, a white or navy polo is $2, a navy jumper is $6, so $12 for an outfit x 5 = $60 for school clothes for the year. But, our school has a ‘trades table’ where you can drop off uniforms your kids have outgrown and pick up pieces other parents have dropped off; so it’s quite rare that we have to buy anything for our kids, other than shoes, socks, and undies.
Also, I’ve found where we live, a lot of stuff is at its cheapest during the back to school sales, but some stuff like pencils and gluesticks are even cheaper about a month after school starts, when they go on clearance. That’s when we stock up. I’ve got a plastic tub in the shed full of school supplies, and we always shop there first.
Casey R. says
I love your emphasis on quality over quantity. Not only do you spend less money in the long run, you also avoid the frustration of things breaking or falling apart when nothing is on sale any more!
As to supplies, I couldn’t more strongly recommend parents get brand-name pencils and crayons. That may sound silly, but I taught at a Title-I school where 95% of students were on free and reduced lunch, so I bought most of the supplies myself. My first year I made the mistake of buying middle-of-the-road pencils and ended up trashing them halfway through the first semester. The points would break as soon as they were sharpened, the eraser would smear the lead, etc. etc. etc. It was a constant distraction for the kids. And they weren’t even the cheap ones! I’d take 4 Ticonderoga pencils over a 20 pack of the cheap ones any day. Crayons were less important than pencils, but Crayola is still best 🙂
I know school supply lists have gotten longer and longer over the years, so I understand when parents reach for the least expensive supplies, though.
Casey R. says
Just realized that totally sounded like a lecture! Whoops, I didn’t mean for it to at all. I just meant I appreciate your quality over quantity philosophy, and I know other teachers out there do too!
You didn’t sound like you were lecturing! 🙂 Funny you should mention Ticonderoga pencils– my kids came home with their lists and then only thing the second grader needs is a 12-pack of Ticonderoga pencils! 🙂 I just ordered a 30-pack on Amazon. They are definitely better quality than the cheap or cutesy pencils that you can sharpen all day and the lead continues to break.
[email protected] says
This year I invested in some durable, washable lunchbox containers. You know, the little ones for yogurt, sandwiches, fruit, etc. I had been using plastic baggies, but I realized that I could save a lot of money (plus be more environmentally friendly) by getting the reusable ones!
Great idea! We go through a lot of plastic baggies!
Crystal @ Frugal Chic Living says
Along with quality backpacks, we also invested in quality winter coats. We purchased a 3-in-1 North Face winter jacket for my oldest when he was 5 for $130. He wore that coat for two years, my middle son wore it for 3 years and the youngest wore it for 2 years. After everyone had outgrown the coat, I sold it on ebay for $40. I plan to do the same with the other sizes we’ve bought since then.
That’s awesome! I love that you used it for so many winters and *still* got money from selling it used afterward!
Sarah Kristen says
Oh wow, I hadn’t heard of Schoola before – looks like a nice site and I love that money goes back to schools! I’ve recently been shopping on Instagram for secondhand clothes – lots of shops are out there and pricing is usually similar to, if not less than, Thredup. I’m going to try opening a shop myself for a little extra income. Otherwise, I’m not a parent, but I like to pick up pencils, pens, sharpies, folders, and other things that I end up needing around the house over the course of the year.
I’ve never shopped for anything on Instagram before! Cool!
I just stumbled on your site a few months ago and I really love it! This year we got mostly shirts to go with shorts and capri pants that were still in great condition. I also made the girls “new” hair bows to go with their outfits out of a stash of ribbon I had been saving. You would be surprised at how many random things you buy that have nice amounts of grosgrain ribbons on them as part of the packaging especially around holidays. Also, old stained dresses have just enough ribbon to make a nice hair bow. I just keep recycling the metal clips! Last year my child’s kindergarten teacher sent home the items she didn’t use all of! So this year I checked to make sure the glue sticks weren’t dried up( they weren’t, they were perfect!)and sent those and some unopened Pink pearl erasers for this school year.One thing I did reuse was a canvas zipper pencil pouch. All it needed was a little hand wash then I hung it to dry and it works great. I also invested in reusable drinking bottles, saves so much money! Unfortunately, my kids don’t like plain water very much.I am trying to change that but for now I am sending, really watered down, flavored water that I make at home from a mix. I am totally gonna try the frozen milk idea, such a great way to keep it cool.
Great job reusing ribbon for hairbows! I save ribbons too, but I haven’t made hairbows for a long time. I should do that! 🙂
The local public schools start here next Monday. We started the first Monday after the 4th of July so we could do school while it’s hot & humid. We take a break in the fall when the weather has cooled off enough to enjoy spending time outside again. Our back to school shopping is usually school supplies and any books or software we’re using for school that year. We buy or make clothes through out the year as needed for the kids.
That’s a good idea to adjust your school schedule so that your kids can play outside when the weather is best!
We do homeschool, so the main things I am buying are crayons, pencils, notebooks, and glue sticks. Strangely enough, I have considered backpacks though as our homeschool room is very portable depending on when the baby is napping (her crib is in the official school room). If we had backpacks, I could just put their basic workbooks and readers, pencils, crayons, etc. in each child’s backpack and they could grab it before she goes down for a nap. But I suppose a tote bag would work as well.
That’s cool that your homeschool is “portable”!
Diana S says
Hi! The Land’s End backpacks are great. I have 4 teenage boys (senior, junior, sophomore and 8th grader). For the next five years, we’ll have some extra expenses with senior pictures, yearbooks, graduation costs and other related items (dances, school trips, projects). However, I’ve learned that in the high school years it is worth investing in heavy duty binders that will last the entire year. The cheap ones would fall apart before Christmas. And I ALWAYS buy pencils/pens now to last thru the year (What do they do with them?!).
Yes! High school binders do get thrashed! And I totally know what you mean about pencils and pens disappearing!
Hmm…I though you home-schooled? What are your kids’ ages?
Nope. Our kids go to public school. I’ve never homeschooled (except preschool) My kids are 7.5 (2nd grade), almost 6 (1st grade). 3.5, and 4 months.
Haha! That’s a sign I follow too many blogs. 😀