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The Ultimate Back-to-School Shopping Guide

Guest Post by Lauren Keys

Waiting until the last minute can be a great way to get a good deal on certain things in life — like a flight or hotel. Other times, it’s more cost-effective to buy something well ahead of when you need it — such as a grill during winter or a bathing suit in the fall.

When it comes to buying back-to-school necessities, waiting until the last minute can result in paying a premium. But if you buy too early, you may not save any money either. A little planning to properly time your back-to-school shopping extravaganza can go a long way in saving you both money and sanity, whether you are sending your kids off to kindergarten or college.

Simply being aware of comprehensive savings resources is a good start, but this guide will help you get all of the supplies and clothes you need this back-to-school season — for a reasonable price — without having to put in the hours of research.


Get Your List Online — From Kindergarten to College

The first step in any successful back-to-school shopping plan is to make a list of the items you need. Making a list for clothing, especially, can keep you from overspending when you get to the store. Apparel is one of the biggest back-to-school expenses for families, but you can bring that cost down by simply knowing what you have and what you need.

Have your student try on all of last year’s clothes, and put items that no longer fit in a box for donation. What you’re left with will help you cross items of the “need” list. As you go through what else is needed for the school year, don’t forget to include a few “wants” for when you come up under budget..

To ensure your student is prepared for the first day of class with the necessary supplies — pencils, notebooks, calculators — you’ll want to track down a school supply list, which can vary by school, grade, or class. Instead of having to guess, you can use a site like TeachersList to quickly find your student’s school supply list by entering your zip code.

For students headed to college for the first time, much more than backpacks, books, and clothes may be necessary — especially if they are moving into a dorm or an apartment. A collegiate list can be quite in-depth as a student must pack everything he or she needs to be self-sufficient.

The daunting proposition of buying all of those items has led some retailers — like Bed Bath & Beyond — to develop their own college-specific portals complete with residence hall guidelines and needs lists. And while a list can keep you focused on what to buy, it isn’t going to necessarily save you any extra money.

Stores like Bed Bath & Beyond often do a good job of getting coupons into the hands of consumers, but those savings can be multiplied by making purchases during prime windows of savings opportunity.


Maximize Your Budget During Tax Holidays & Promotional Periods

Many states offer sales tax holidays just before school begins, meaning that sales tax is suspended for school-related items — like clothes, shoes, and, in some cases, laptops. The holiday dates vary by state, but usually fall during a weekend, giving you plenty of time to prep, plan, and attack your school shopping list all at once.

Several online retailers also recognize sales tax holidays, one of the most notable being Amazon which will not collect state taxes on items bought during those periods.

With back-to-school promotions debuting earlier, between late July and early August, you’ll likely be able to take advantage of sales and specials during your state’s tax holiday. If you live in — or near — a state with a sales tax holiday, it’s worth looking into whether it overlaps with any brand discounts to make the most of every dollar you spend this season.


Offset Incremental Spending by Saving on Big-Ticket Items

Saving a few cents on a pack of pencils is small potatoes compared to saving hundreds of dollars on a new computer. Keep that in mind when prioritizing the time you spend hunting for deals.

By focusing your efforts on expensive items first — like outfitting your student with the latest tech — you may be able to realize enough savings to fund the rest of your back-to-school shopping. Microsoft frequently has promo codes that can save shoppers 10% or more — which really adds up on a purchase that could be well over $1,000.

Some retailers even offer ongoing savings, like the Best Buy student discount program which offers exclusive deals on school-related electronics to students.


Cost-Effectively Stock Up On Clothing — Online or In-Store

Online back-to-school sales can boast some pretty great prices on everything from shirts to socks, but you can also find ways to make your money go further at certain e-tailers by stacking coupons on top of promotional prices and sales tax holidays.

Clothing companies like Old Navy often feature similar promotions online and in-store, but if you buy items through the website with an Old Navy promo code you can unlock deeper discounts than you can get in a brick-and-mortar store.

While thrifting might not be the first thing that comes to mind for back-to-school shopping, you can find gently used, brand name clothing from stores like ThredUp for much cheaper than other retailers. Plus, some online consignment shops, ThredUp included, accept promo codes to help you come in even further under budget on top brands.


A Little Planning Makes Back-to-School Shopping Elementary

Back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to break the bank, and doing a little homework can result in some great deals on supplies and apparel.

Start with a list and game plan the best time to shop so you save time, money, and your sanity.

And remember, the online offers at Goodshop — from major retailers like Land’s End and Belk — impact more than just your pocketbook. When you use a Goodshop coupon at checkout, a percentage of your purchase can go back to your child’s school — a savings tip to really brag about.

Guest Post by Lauren Keys

Lauren Keys is editor-in-chief at DealCrunch.com, an online publication that highlights the retail industry’s movers and shakers, up-and-coming startups, influencers, business solutions, and more. With deep dives into brands and trends, DealCrunch keeps readers informed of relevant retail industry and shopping news.