Top tips for saving when back to school

Customers shop for school supplies at a Target store in Colma, California.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As parents know all too well, it’s hard to cut corners when it comes to children.

Despite more households living paycheck to paycheck, this year’s total back-to-school spending is expected to reach last year’s record high of $37 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 on school supplies, up $168 from 2019, the NRF found.

“Families view back-to-school and college items as an essential category,” said Matthew Shay, NRF President and CEO.

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A separate report by Deloitte found that 37% of parents may be spending even more this year — up to $661 per child.

And yet 75% of parents are stressed about paying the bill, up 12% from last year, according to LendingTree.

“These spending are taking a heavy financial toll on American families, who are already grappling with the highest levels of inflation in more than 40 years,” said Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst at Bankrate.

Families are thinly fed

According to a new survey of more than 2,400 adults, nearly a third of families said back-to-school shopping will strain their budgets, with middle-income households feeling the hardest hit.

More than a third, or 37%, of parents with school-age children said inflation means they can’t afford back-to-school groceries, and nearly half said they would take on debt for their children, according to another Study of Credit Karma found.

Bankrate also found that 41% of consumers will change the way they shop for the coming school year, with most looking for strategies to save money.

How to save money when shopping at school

Typically, only buy what you need when you need it, advised Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst at

Students may need to start the school year with notebooks, folders, paper, pens and pencils, but other purchases, like a new backpack or lunch box, may be put off until they go on sale.

Unless you need a new laptop or headphones right away, Ramhold recommends waiting until Labor Day or even Black Friday, when electronics discounts are bigger.

These expenses are taking a heavy financial toll on American families.

Ted Rossman

Senior Industry Analyst at Bankrate

A price tracking browser extension like CamelCamelCamel or Keepa can help you keep track of price changes and alert you when the price drops.

In addition to shopping at the best price, taking advantage of sales tax holidays, credit card rewards or cash back bonuses, said Beverly Harzog, a consumer finance analyst at US News & World Report.

If eligible, Harzog also recommends applying for a new card with a sign-up bonus or offering a 0% introductory interest rate for 12 to 21 months and then paying it off interest-free over the course of the year.

“It’s a better win if you use a bit of strategy,” she said.

Then use a cash back site like to earn money back on online purchases, including school supplies from Target, Walmart, and Macy’s.

Rossman recommends stacking discounts, such as combining credit card rewards with shopping coupons and online shopping portals. “That’s three ways to save on the same purchase.”

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube. Top tips for saving when back to school

Drew Weisholtz

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