The 7 Essential Tips for Affordable Back-to-School Shopping

Back-to-school season can be a magical time for students and parents, sparking excitement and nostalgia with every fresh notebook and backpack, and the intangibles, like reuniting with friends and a new routine. However, for many, these memorable moments feel caught between rising costs and shrinking budgets. Prices of school supplies have risen nearly 25% in the past two years, according to a recent Deloitte back-to-school survey, but six in 10 parents say they’re still willing to splurge on special treats and items that help with self-expression.

Shopping expert and savvy mom Trae Bodge, has seven tips for how to budget and still have moments of meaningful indulgence that help make the season special. With a knack for deal-finding, saving, budgeting, and generating more funds to shop with, Trae knows how to transform the stress-inducing aspects of back-to-school shopping into manageable, gratifying, and even fun experiences that can double as learning opportunities.

Tip 1: Start by shopping within your own four walls

A mother and her child pack a school back with supplies at their kitchen bench.

Trae suggests starting by making a list of everything you already own. This can shave some stress and dollars off back-to-school shopping by giving you a clearer picture of what you actually need. 

“Look at the backpack from last year and what's in it. Are there notebooks or binders that could be reused or refreshed? Maybe the backpack just needs a good wash,” said Trae.

You may be surprised by the things you bought last year that went unused, and you’re only buying the essentials.

Tip 2: Know before you go (shopping) 

"If you're in a situation where you're very financially strapped, you should utilize any resources that are available to you in your town,” said Trae. For Trae and her family, preparation is key: Before you fill up your (in-store or virtual) cart, check for potential community resources, state tax-free holidays, and retailers offering price matching.

“Where I live, the schools offer laptops on loan for families in need. Every state tax-free holiday is different, so get familiar and then take advantage to do the bulk of the shopping.”

Tip 3: Get the most bang for your back-to-school buck 

Shop competitively by using coupons and historical price comparisons more strategically. With a few clicks at checkout, the PayPal Honey mobile and desktop browser extensions make it easy by automatically searching for, and testing, the best coupons. The historical pricing feature also helps you know that you’re getting a good price. For Trae, this tool has been especially useful in determining which sales are actually worth it. 

“One of the things that I love about PayPal Honey is how it will tell me ‘This price is low right now. It's a good time to buy’ or ‘the price is high right now,” she said. “My daughter is taking a fashion design class this year and I used the historical pricing feature when ordering her some supplies she needed, such as left-handed scissors.”

Tip 4: Plan ahead to help strategically splurge on staples

Lower the financial burden of necessary splurges through strategically timed purchases, payments, and use of shopping-related rewards.  

This includes: 

Planning for when you buy: Buying off-season can sometimes help. A winter coat, for example, can be cheaper in the summer. Buying other clothes as needed can also help you avoid wasting money on items that wind up not being needed. 

Planning for how you buy: For items that are consistently pricey, such as laptops, make sure you check the PayPal app for deals where you can earn PayPal Rewards. These can be redeemed for cash back, helping offset other purchases or free up funds.

“It’s just a no-brainer to me,” said Trae. “I love to earn rewards and then use them for ‘fun money’ down the road. You can earn rewards while back-to-school shopping and then use them to buy something special for your child after school begins.” 

Planning for when and how you pay: If you need items right away but want to strategically stretch your budget, find smart ways to spread out payments over time. For larger purchases, PayPal Pay Later gives you the flexibility to split payments over time.  

PayPal Pay Later is a really good way to make a big purchase and spread it out over multiple weeks or months,” said Trae. “That's always a solution that I like to use.”

Tip 5: Don’t sleep on second-hand options and community swaps 

Gently used items can also be gentle on your wallet. Find a local school supply swap or online community group for a cost-effective way to stock up.

And instead of worrying about bringing cash, use PayPal – a way to exchange funds securely while protecting your privacy, which also offers both Purchase Protection and Seller Protection on eligible purchases in case things don’t quite go to plan. You can send or receive money using a name, username, email or phone number, a link, or by sharing your PayPal QR Code if both the buyer and seller have a PayPal or Venmo app.  

A headshot of Trae Bodge, she smiles and looks to the left, on a balcony over some rooftops.
Shopping expert and savvy mom Trae Bodge.

Tip 6: Get creative – literally

“I used to cover my books with craft paper, and I would decorate them,” said Trae. She suggested finding interesting ways to spruce up items you already own so that they feel fresh and uniquely special. By using inexpensive arts and crafts, such as stickers, decorative pins, and patches, you can make a fun project out of restyling last year’s folders, binders, and backpacks. 

“I'd go into school with my brand-new book covers and I felt really excited about that,” said Trae. “Now, my daughter also gets excited about personalizing school supplies every year.” 

Tip 7: Make back-to-school shopping a teachable moment 

Back-to-school shopping is an ideal opportunity to teach your kids about strategic shopping, such as budgeting strategies, finding good deals, and saving up for big purchases. Include them in back-to-school budgeting conversations, and in your online and in-store shopping trips (as long as you know that their presence won’t prevent you from staying on budget).  

With these tips, all that’s needed now is to make your list and get started on your savvy shopping.



The content of this article is for information purposes only.

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