8 Tips for Back-to-School Shopping on a Budget

Make back-to-school shopping on a budget easier by looking for sales, student discounts, coupons, and more.

portrait of Kristen Grau
by Kristen Grau

Updated August 12, 2022

Edited by Cameren Boatner
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8 Tips for Back-to-School Shopping on a Budget
Image Credit: Jackyenjoyphotography / Moment / Getty Images


College students and their families spend thousands of dollars on tuition every year. On top of that, they spend an extra $1,199 on average on back-to-school shopping, according to the National Retail Federation's 2022 Back-to-College survey. That's a $140 increase from 2020.

Discover strategies that can help you save money on essentials like electronics, dorm furnishings, and clothing while back-to-school shopping on a budget.

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

1 Shop at the Right Time

Some states offer sales tax holidays for back-to-school shopping. That means you don't have to pay sales tax on many common school supplies and certain electronics, clothes, and accessories.

Every state has different rules and exemptions. In Florida, for example, school supplies must cost $50 or less to be eligible. States might have different time spans and dates as well. Back-to-school sales tax holidays can last a weekend or a few weeks.

Find out if and when your state has a tax holiday and plan to shop then.

2 Make a List

If you shop for groceries without a list, you might end up with a bunch of snacks you didn't budget for. The same thing applies to your back-to-school shopping.

Having a list can help you focus on the necessities and stick to your budget. Keep in mind that if you create a list, you should stick to it. If you don't, you might get carried away with unnecessary expenses.

3 Shop the Sales

Look for sales on back-to-school items you need — even if you're a few months away from starting school. Back-to-school sales can start as early as June. Even if the sales aren't huge, small discounts can add up.

Shop around at multiple stores — and more than once — to get the best bang for your buck. You don't need to find all your back-to-school items in one trip at the same store. One store might be better for electronics, and another might have better deals for dorm or apartment furniture. Plus, items might be on sale at different times, so keep an eye out online for sales in between semesters.

4 Look for Student Discounts

You can find student discounts on many back-to-school essentials like electronics, clothes, and furniture. (You can also find them on things that might not be essential but are nice to have, like streaming services and music platforms.)

Although they vary, here are just a few places that offer student discounts:

5 Start Couponing

Coupons are an easy way for you to save money on school supplies while back-to-school shopping on a budget. One of the best things about coupons is that other people do the hard part for you and compile lists of coupons.

For example, Groupon provides a list of 20 back-to-school deals for places like eFollett and Michaels.

You can also find coupons on your own. By downloading your favorite stores' apps or visiting them, you can check for exclusive deals and coupons.

6 Download Money-Saving Apps

Back-to-school shopping doesn't just need to happen in a store. If you shop online, there are money-saving apps like Honey or Shopper.com that will find deals for you when you check out.

These apps are usually free. You can download both Honey and Shopper.com as a browser extension, and they'll automatically notify you if you can use any coupon codes.

Other options for shopping online include Ibotta and Rakuten. They offer percentage discounts when you shop through their apps.

7 Find Out What Your School Can Offer

Your school may offer some things on your back-to-school list for free. For example, your school likely has computers and printers that you could use either for free or at a low cost.

If you need professional clothing, see if your school has a professional clothes closet you could borrow from. Some schools' career centers have a selection to choose from if you have interviews or professional events.

8 Reuse or Buy Used

You might not be able to keep everything from your previous school year, but holding on to what you can that's still in good shape can help you stick to your budget. It's easier to throw away things you can replace like folders or binders, but hanging on to them can free up your budget for other things.

Sometimes, you can buy more expensive essentials like textbooks or electronics used for less. Amazon and Chegg are reputable places to buy used textbooks from. You can also look through Apple's or Microsoft's selection of certified refurbished electronics.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute professional financial advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.


BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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