Money Saving Tips

Money-Saving Tips for Back-to-School Shopping

By Kelly Youngblood

It’s only early July and feels like summer is just getting started, but school supplies are already lining the shelves of local retail stores. (Cue all the children groaning in unison.)

With the cost of registration, school supplies, new clothes, etc, back-to-school shopping can really add up —  especially if you have multiple kids.

We’ve comprised a list of our best top back-to-school shopping tips that will help you stay on a budget and make that transition from summer to school a little bit smoother.

Thank you to Christie Clinic for presenting our 2021 Champaign-Urbana Area Back to School series.

Christie Clinic is encouraging parents to schedule a school physical soon.

Starting school physical appointments now will allow Christie Clinic Department of Pediatrics and Department of Family Medicine to best serve all patients while maintaining a safe visit environment. Enhanced precautions are in place to keep patients and team members safe including additional hours, visitor restrictions and social distancing to reduce the number of people in our facilities.

Parents can currently make back-to-school appointments for their children through their MyChristie patient portal or online at

Inventory your home

Don’t be afraid to reuse school supplies from previous years. Reusing and recycling isn’t just environmentally friendly but also easier on the pocketbook. Gather up as many “school-approved” supplies around the house you can find and mark things off the list before you even get to the store. As one reader points out, “The new crayons are only new until the first time they are used!”

Hit up new shopping spots

Many of us head to the traditional big box stores like Walmart, Target, or Meijer to get our school supply shopping done, but don’t overlook some of the other options in town. Staples, Dollar Tree, CVS Pharmacy, Menards (earn rebates!), and even yard sales can be a great place to find good deals. We’re told by multiple sources The IDEA Store has a great inventory of very affordable school supplies too.

Shop Online

Shopping online is another good option since it’s easier to compare prices at different locations. One reader says she looks at her lists and starts several online carts to calculate the cheapest costs. Many of the stores offer free in-store pick-up too so there are no extra fees for delivery. Others swear by buying school supplies on Amazon.

Shop early and spread it out

Shopping early and buying a little bit at a time will help you spread out the cost. Some recommend shopping r-e-a-l-l-y early, as in buy-in-bulk the previous year when items go on ‘clearance’ and then store them for the next year.

However, even if you wait until the last minute, don’t fret. Plenty of parents prefer to wait until school starts to see what their students actually need.

“Kids don’t need everything (on) day one. Ask the teacher what is needed in the first few weeks and focus on those and then add things throughout the year.”

A kindergarten teacher recommends sending in individual supplies for students and then checking with teachers about sending in “communal” items such as tissues and wipes later in the year. (It helps with storage in the classroom as well!)

Keep an eye out for sales

Most stores will be boasting their doorbuster sales so watch for those deals! If you’re willing to go to multiple stores, you can purchase the cheapest deal at each one. Don’t forget to take advantage of in-store coupons such as Mperks at Meijer or use the Target Circle app for extra discounts.

Stick to the list

It can be difficult, especially when you see those nostalgic Trapper Keepers or scented markers, but try to stick to the school list. Those cutesy extras can add up quick and in the end they’re just not necessary.

Back-to-school shopping is also a great opportunity to teach your kids about budgeting. Start by setting a dollar amount and let them pick out the items on the list without going over the budget.

Shop with a friend and split costs

When your child needs four glue sticks but can only find them in packages of 10, shopping with a friend and splitting the cost can really come in handy.

Listen to advice

We asked our Facebook readers for their advice on back-to-school shopping. Here are some of their responses:

“Keep an eye on prices, split larger packages with someone or save for next year, do not buy the cutesy stuff (only what is on list), Ticonderoga pencils and Crayola crayons, markers/colored pencils are worth the money, expensive folders tear up the same as the 20 cent ones.”

“My kids re-use what they can from year to year! It feels wasteful to get new markers, crayons, etc. when last year’s are still perfectly usable. We also try to find folders that are sturdy enough to get a couple of years of them and even notebooks. Also buy in bulk when you can. I have 4 kids so on Amazon I bought bulk packages of things they all need like glue sticks, erasers, and Ticonderoga pencils, then we split them up. Much cheaper that way!”

“Different stores usually have different “door busters” to attract customers with the idea that 50¢ crayons will get you in the door and you’ll do all of your shopping with them. I lay out my lists and have like 4 online carts going and price-compare. I only buy the cheapest thing from each store. Between Staples, Target, and Office Depot you can get free in-store pickup and cover almost your entire list with sale items from your couch.”

“My kids (on their own) started keeping items from school that were unused or that could be reused from the previous year: rulers, scissors, notebooks, folders, etc. They went through them at the end of the year and kept them in a bag by their desks in their room. Then at back to school time they went through the back to school list and figured out what they really needed. Then I would say Walmart, IDEA Store etc. Even Walgreens has insane pencils sales sometimes.”

Check out our entire Back to School Series, presented by Christie Clinic: