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Bottom Line Up Front

  • Don’t start your back-to-school shopping at the last minute. Leave yourself plenty of time for comparison shopping so you can find the best prices on back-to-school items like lunch boxes and school uniforms. 
  • Think outside the name-brand box. You can often find exactly what you need at dollar stores and thrift stores.

Time to Read

3 minutes

June 7, 2022

Whether you’re heading off to college, preparing for advanced degree classes or helping someone else get ready for another year of school, you likely have a long shopping list of back-to-school items. It’s easy to get carried away with back-to-school shopping, so sticking to a budget becomes crucial.

Use these tips to help you save money during back-to-school season this fall. 

  1. Plan ahead with school supplies.

    If you have anything you can reuse from previous school years, this is a great starting point. If not, write down exactly what you’ll need for the upcoming school year and set a back-to-school budget. Do you need more binders and notebooks? Can your laptop work for another school year? Is your money better spent on new back-to-school supplies or a mini-fridge for your dorm? Make a back-to-school shopping list so you're ready to comparison shop when back-to-school sales start.

    A clear budget will help you keep your school supply list spending in check. Even a few trips to the dollar store could really help you save money with your back-to-school shopping.
  2. Shop refurbished electronic items to save money.

    Do you really need the latest version of a name-brand smartphone with the newest camera? What about other electronic devices? You could save money, even hundreds of dollars, by purchasing a refurbished cell phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. Just be sure to buy from a reputable retailer that sells refurbished products and provides a warranty.

    If you’re exploring online for your back-to-school shopping, Amazon® is a great place to start. It has a fantastic return policy, as does Walmart®. But wherever you shop, just remember to keep receipts for all your back-to-school purchases in case you need to make any returns. Beware of buying from online auctions or anywhere that doesn’t provide some kind of guarantee. “As is” and “all sales final” deals should be avoided. 
  3. Check out your book-buying options.

    You may decide that new or “gently used” books are best if you plan to use them throughout your career. However, if you just need the book for a semester or two, consider options that could save you time and money. Instead of buying books brand new, see if the campus bookstore has a rental program. Visit the library to review their online catalog and book inventory. eBooks are a great option and often cheaper than paper versions—plus, they give you the ability to easily search text, which may be critical to helping you study. Audiobooks are another option that many learners prefer. 
  4. Take advantage of tax-free shopping days.

    Tax-free shopping days typically occur in late summer, around the time for back-to-school shopping. Avoiding sales tax is a great way to save money on clothing and back-to-school supplies. While some states might offer more tax-free items than others, not all states participate in the program. So, if you live in a state that doesn’t sponsor a tax-free back-to-school shopping day, consider back-to-school shopping in a nearby state.
  5. Take your back-to-school shopping online.

    Daily-deal websites feature all kinds of discounts on products and services. You can visit the online retailer or choose to sign up for regular email alerts. Set price alerts for any major items you have your eye on; this will allow you to monitor price fluctuations and make your move when the price is right. You can also shop online through special shopping portals. Navy Federal Credit Union members can earn big rewards by shopping at our exclusive online Member Deals site, which features many back-to-school shopping favorites.
  6. Stock up to save money.

    Stocking up is key to wise money management. Shop at warehouse clubs for bulk items you know you’ll need all school year, like pens, paper, binders and folders. You may even find deals on furniture for a home office. Don’t forget to stock your fridge with snacks for those late-night study sessions. Give yourself one less thing to worry about once school starts by buying household items in bulk, like paper towels or trash bags. 

Next Steps Next Steps

  1. Study your needs, make a realistic budget and start exploring cost-effective ways to meet your goals.
  2. Use our Monthly Spending Calculator to keep track of your spending and savings.


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This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.