With three school age kids, back to school time is a big hit to our budget every year. By embracing some minimalist principles, I’ve found new ways to save money on back to school shopping.
Rather than finding the stores with the best deals, these tips are about changing your mindset. When you transform your spending habits, you can save more in the long run than a few cents here and there.
By consuming less, you’ll be helping the earth and your wallet all while setting a good example for your kids.This post contains some affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you use them (at no cost to you). Full disclosure.
Minimalist Habits for Back to School Shopping
Here are three minimalist habits to embrace during your next back to school shopping:
This one was a big eye-opener for me. It can be tempting to dump everything and start fresh each year, but you can save a lot by taking a close look at the supplies your child already has.
Rather than tossing all their notebooks in the recycling bin at the end of the year, I took time to thumb through them. I was surprised to see several only had 10 or 15 pages used. I ripped those pages out and transferred the notebooks to the next year. Money saved.
Things like plastic folders and binders that are still in good shape are also ripe for re-use. If the class list says 1-inch binder and you already have a 2-inch binder on hand—it’s close enough!
I found by going through the supplies list versus the things we had at home before hitting the store, I was able to cross off about half the list.
I even raided the family art cabinet and found some extra colored pencils and glue sticks we could use. These had just been sitting there and could have easily gone unnoticed.
Getting fresh new supplies can be exciting for kids. I’m not suggesting you take away this fun part of your back to school ritual. Rather, take your time to prep first to see what you really need.
Buying used items is another way you can save money and be more green in the process. When my oldest child needed an expensive graphing calculator, I called around to some used college book stores in the area and found one selling a used calculator at half the price of new.
It would have been quick and easy to buy this online, but a little extra effort resulted in huge savings. Give some thought to whether there are any bigger ticket items you could get used on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or a local secondhand shop.
Our family also uses hand-me-downs for school supplies that are still in usable condition. Kids can always personalize an item with stickers to make it more their own.
2. Buy quality materials
Our throwaway culture has conditioned us to grab the lowest priced item. This may make sense for some things, but for important supplies that you need to last, you’ll save yourself money and headache by spending more upfront for higher quality.
For example, I ended up buying my daughter three sets of reasonably priced headphones one year. She uses them every day at school.
Each would last no more than 3 months before they quit working. Frustrated, I finally splurged for a higher-end pair that came with a 1-year warranty. They’ve been going strong for 3 years now. I’ve replaced the cord and foam covers separately when those have worn out.
I spent more than I wanted on the nice headphones, but I could have saved way more by starting with those instead of the cheaper ones.
Backpacks are another area where I’ve learned it’s better to get quality, reputable brands that will last. I can’t stand to have to replace a backpack every year. We have a rule in our family that you use the same backpack all through elementary school, then you can get a new one for middle and high school.
Knowing this upfront saves on whining and begging every year.
I swear by trusted brands like L.L. Bean that have been around since I was a kid. We’ve only had one that had an issue, and the company replaced it free of charge.
We also have a JanSport backpack that has served as our family diaper bag for over 10 years.
Reputable brands may not have all the trendy patterns or characters your kid is into right this minute, and that’s OK. It will serve you better in the end, because your kid might not be into Paw Patrol next year. It’s easier to add a decorative keychain than to toss a whole backpack.
It can be hard when your child sees all the fun plastic backpacks at the store. I give them set choices and explain that it’s important that we choose a backpack that will last.
These are just a couple of examples where it can make sense to invest more initially.
You might be wondering, “but what if my child loses this expensive item?” I’d be surprised if you didn’t worry about this! All I can say is label everything. Go nuts with a Sharpie or get some durable premade labels.
It won’t prevent every loss, but it can help. My daughter’s expensive headphones were returned a few days after being left in a restaurant. I also talk to my kids about not taking their items out on the bus.
3. Try a minimalist wardrobe
New year, new look. I get it—your kids are looking to impress. Actually, is it them or you?
Judging from my recent kids room cleanout, I’m guessing I’m not the only family whose kids have way more clothes than they need.
If you’re looking to save money, be mindful of how much new clothing you buy for them. Back to school sales can be tempting, because it feels like you’re getting a deal, but they can also make it easy to go overboard.
Just like with the other school supplies, spend some time giving a thorough look at what you have already before you head out shopping. Whittle the shopping list down to things they actually need.
Chances are your kid will be just as excited to get two new shirts as they would to get ten. I think around 7 to 10 days’ worth of clothing is just right for a child.
Consider the other principles I’ve mentioned already when back to school shopping for clothes. Think quality basics with a few fun pieces mixed in for style—a kids capsule wardrobe. (Bonus: You’ll save on laundry headaches too!)
Spending a bit more for items that will get lots of wear or you intend to pass down can be worthwhile.
There’s nothing wrong with going used. Consignment sales often have great prices on quality clothes for kids. Used clothes can be just as much fun and will still feel new to your child.
And try not to overthink it. They’re kids!
Have a Great School Year
Moving up to a new grade is an exciting time! Be sure to focus attention on aspects outside of back to school shopping too, like what your child is looking forward to and any goals they have for the year.
I hope these tips help you save money and live more intentionally.
Wishing you and your family a wonderful school year!