4 Tactics to Keep Back to School Spending in Check

When parents and kids are both excited to shop for back to school, it can turn into a textbook case of out of control spending. Who can resist those rows of fresh new pencils, fat empty notebooks just waiting to be filled with ideas bordering on genius, and the array of dazzling organizers that promise that this, this year is going to so much better than last year!

Back to school equals new beginnings, fresh starts and do-overs. Back to school means back to serious business, where new friends await, old mistakes are forgotten and the future is wide open. It’s a time when the coolest teen magazines Instagram is filled with filtered photos of perfect little coeds, jumping and laughing together with friends, all the while sporting the latest backpacks, hair bands and fall skirts and shoes.

The thing about back to school spending, is someone’s got to keep a level head. Because if you don’t, there won’t be any money left in the budget for new sports equipment, that cheerleading outfit, the school trips or the endless pizza parties, not to mention that adorable new winter coat that hasn’t even been advertised yet. The fact is, school spending goes on for the entire year, so it’s better to keep tabs on the back to school spending so you’ll have more than a small fraction to spend the rest of the year.

Make a Budget

Boring? Yes, but it’s also good practice for the scholar in the home. Talk about what activities the student might want to join this year, figure in an allowance for shopping trips with friends, and remember to factor in the over-priced, “Oh, my God, I’ll never ask you for another thing as long as I live if you just let me get these boots!” boots. If you make a budget and stick with it, it really will be a good school year, at least financially.

Dig for Coupons

Before you go shopping, arm yourself with as many coupons as you can lay your hands on. Think about that jumbo coupon book you bought off the Boy Scout outside the grocery store earlier this year. Dig that out and see if there are any coupons for the usual teen beloved stores like Forever 21 or H&M. Go online and sign up for their newsletters so you can get coupons delivered to your inbox. Consider a club membership at Sam’s Club or BJs, where you might find school supplies with a hefty bulk discount.


Each year, teachers make long lists of supplies for their classes. But for one reason or another, half the stuff ends up not getting used. And teachers don’t really have the time to coordinate with other teachers to make sure they aren’t accidentally asking parents to buy double the amount of supplies they really need. But you can make sure. One 3-subject notebook will cover three classes. Your youngster doesn’t need three separate notebooks. They also don’t need a pack of eight ball point pens. They only need one, and they can probably find a perfectly good one in the kitchen junk drawer. When they lose that one—and they will—there’s probably another one underneath the pile of clothes on the floor in their bedroom. The point is, consolidate the list and the existing supplies in the household, and save money. Every penny counts.


Parents often feel guilted into buying back to school things that their kids don’t really need. It’s okay to say, “I have a budget, and we’re sticking to it.” It’s okay to say no. Saying no to buying more school supplies doesn’t mean you’re dooming your eager student to failure in middle school.

Let your kids know that there will be plenty more opportunities to bond over shopping during the year. Most important of all, let them know that buying new stuff won’t make life improve. A new sweater won’t get them a date for homecoming, and gel nails won’t get them into the popular girls’ club. Shopping for back to school items is the perfect opportunity to get your kids excited about learning, but the first lesson should be how to spend money responsibly.

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