Schoolin’ the savings game: 5 ways to get an A+ on back-to-school bargains

Aug 17, 2023 8:00 AM PDT
4 minute read
back to school

Photo credit: Marko Geber (Getty Images)


Check out these 5 ways to save on back-to-school shopping–some might surprise you. Sharpen those pencils and bust out the wide-ruled paper!

Sharpen those pencils and bust out the wide-ruled paper—back-to-school shopping is here! The back-to-school season is exciting for students and parents alike, but it can also be financially daunting as you check items off the school supplies lists. However, with some strategic planning and savvy shopping techniques, you can save money while preparing for the new academic year (or the next six months before you PCS again).

Here are 5 ways to school the savings game this fall:

1. Create a budget and stick to it

Before you even dive into the art aisle or stock up on snacks for lunches, it’s time to establish a realistic budget. Take into account all the necessary items your child will need such as school supplies, clothing, backpacks and accessories, and electronics. Setting a specific amount ahead of time will help you avoid impulsive purchases and stay within your means.

Remember to also anticipate additional expenses such as club fees, field trips, school events or unexpected costs. It’s always a good rule of thumb to add a miscellaneous line item to your spending plan. Be sure to track and adjust as you make purchases and compare them to your budget.

2. Get your kid onboard with a “Fun Kid Budget”

The one thing that might be able to torpedo your budget faster than a speeding bullet is a kid who doesn’t want to have restrictions on their new school gear. A little reverse psychology can go a long way in making them think they are the ones who call the shots. One way to convince them is by creating a “Fun Kid Budget.”

Once you have planned out the budget and have a number in your head for how much you would like to spend on a certain area, communicate with your child. Clearly delineate what items are essential and the amount you plan to spend, then give them complete control. Say something like, “I’m planning on spending $100 dollars for your school clothes this year. I’ll let you pick out the clothes and you can keep whatever is left over.”

Fun Kid Budgets are a win-win. Not only do you get to stay within budget, but you also have your kids buying strategically while teaching them valuable money management skills along the way. Being able to keep what is left over gives them great motivation to find sales or even skip the name brand for a store brand.

3. Leverage Credit Card Rewards Points

If you have a rewards credit card, consider using your accumulated rewards points or cashback to offset some of your back-to-school expenses. Good rewards cards such as the More Rewards Card from a credit union like Navy Federal can come in handy this time of year. This card offers 25K bonus points (a $250 value) when you sign up and a one-time $49 statement credit when you purchase an annual Walmart+ subscription (did someone say free grocery delivery?). You can then redeem those points for cash, travel, gift cards, and merchandise from the places you were already planning to purchase school supplies.

In addition to all the great rewards on the Navy Federal More Rewards American Express Card, the best benefits from a card from Navy Federal is that there is no annual fee, no balance transfer fee, no foreign transaction fees, and no cash advance fees.

And moving forward, consider planning ahead and saving up your reward points throughout the year specifically for this purpose. By accumulating a significant number of points, you will have more flexibility and a larger pool of rewards to offset your expenses.

4. Utilize Coupons and Promo Codes

When shopping online and in-store, look for coupons and promo codes that can be used for back-to-school shopping. These can be found in newspapers, online coupon websites, or through retailer newsletters. Applying these discounts can lead to significant savings.

Some great online resources are Rebates, Honey, and RetailMeNot. Each of these can be added as a browser plug-in to automatically search for coupon codes, cash back (or rebates), free shipping or sometimes other websites where that item can be cheaper. RetailMeNot also has an app you can take in-store to compare deals or price comps.

Another quick hack is to sign up for the email lists to your favorite stores where you love to shop. They will often send out marketing emails with in-store coupons, online codes, or special sales you can utilize in your school supplies hunt. But If you don’t want 572 emails in your inbox every day, use a tool called When you create an account and connect your email, it automatically compiles all the lists your email is subscribed to. You can then unsubscribe, keep in your inbox, or “roll up” into one email that will send you every morning. This is a great way to keep marketing emails in one place and not cluttering your inbox.

5. Shop Tax-Free

Some states offer tax-free weekends during the back-to-school season, where certain school-related items are exempt from sales tax. Take advantage of these weekends to purchase eligible items and save on taxes. Look into whether your state offers these weekends. Also, remember to use your local Exchange on your nearest installation to shop tax-free.

Back-to-school time can be the most wonderful time of the year with careful planning and a bit of creativity. Now go navigate this shopping season while keeping both your child's needs and your budget in check. You got this!