4 Trends That Help Parents Save on Back-to-School Expenses

The average family with K-12 kids planned to spend $850 last year on school supplies—that's a record. Here's how to hack the back-to-school spending system.

An image of school supplies and a mini grocery cart on a blue background.
Photo: Getty Images.

Parenting will always be the hardest job on earth, but rarely does anyone warn you that it's also the most expensive. An August 2021 CBS report revealed that, between low wages and high inflation, "the typical family with children in K-12 education this year will shell out roughly $850 on school supplies—a record—according to the National Retail Federation, a trade group." Some even went into debt to send their little ones off to the classroom.

To save some cold hard cash, the smart money is on these four trends that help parents put their best foot forward without paying an arm and a leg.

01 of 04

Find coupons on Instagram.

The 'gram is fast becoming as ubiquitous as the Sunday paper. Much in the same way that frugal parents find deals in the advertising inserts, they are also cashing in on coupons from influencers in the know.

Melanie Legaspi is the Hawaiian finance nerd behind the budgeting and side hustle IG account Mommy Finance. In addition to advocating for reusing unused supplies from last year, Legaspi follows coupon deal accounts that have great back-to-school savings: Deal Chasing Mama and Mama Deals. In addition, she reminds everyone to keep an eye out for birthday and holiday gifts that can be purchased well in advance. It's those last-minute gifts for rather predictable expenses that can really break the bank.

02 of 04

Get your kids their own portable office.

Worky Home Office
Worky Home Office. Worky Home Office

Wise parents are getting products like Worky The Home Office, a portable desk in a box, to ensure that anyone—adult or child—can work from anywhere without skipping a beat. This traveling briefcase houses a workspace that brings together 15 key elements of a productive desk, including backlighting, a magnetic dry erase board, and even charging cords. Separately, each feature would easily be double the price and infinitely less agile. The best part is that these boxes are not age-specific, so when your kid returns to the classroom after quarantine or isolation, parents can repurpose the Worky for their own return-to-office portability.

03 of 04

Invest in e-book apps.

One of the largest expenses for college students is buying bulky textbooks that they'll never use again after one semester. What's worse is the process to resell those underlined and dog-eared books for pennies on the dollar. Parents and college students are realizing how much hassle they can avoid and how much money they can save by going digital. For most literature classes, Audible, Kindle, and Nook will do the trick. But for Psychology or International Development, among other subjects, only apps like Pearson+ will do.

When students sign up for either one book per month ($9.99/ month) or for unlimited access ($14.99/month), they can read Pearson's library of more than 1,500 eTexts from leading authors around the world. Flashcards and notetaking capabilities add even more value for the studious learner. Having a one-stop-shop for so many academic titles also helps ease the burden of finding sources for research papers and class assignments. E-textbook apps save time, space, and money.

04 of 04

Budget for next year right now.

Christian Lovell is Chris the Money Mom, the mommy blogger who helps people improve their financial life by strategically budgeting, saving, and investing for the future. First, Lovell notes that parents who already overspent this year should not feel bad; there was an awful lot going on. But, she encourages everyone to get a jump on next year by first creating a monthly budget around the costs they want to spend. Better yet, ask ahead for the shopping list for classes your child is expected to take next year. She says making a "sinking fund" for back-to-school shopping is the best way to make sure spending stays on track.

"You would save for these large expenses, little by little. For example, if you want to spend $300 on back-to-school clothes and supplies, you could plan ahead for a few months and set aside a small, regular contribution from each paycheck. If you started in January, you would only have to save $37.50 monthly to meet your goal by August," she calculates.

Also, she encourages parents to start picking up little things as soon as they see them on sale. Why wait until August 2023, when you know your kid will need new binders today? Buy as much as possible, as early as possible, before price hikes take effect.

"Before you shop, check for the best deals and sales online. Compare prices before heading to the store and shop at stores that have great price-matching policies," she suggests. Also, Lovell is a fan of cash-back apps like Fetch, Retailmenot, and Ibotta that offer rewards and cashback on purchases. She reminds parents to keep receipts handy because these apps often let you scan in old purchases to reap future rewards.

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