As of the beginning of last week, back to school savings are in full swing. Staples, Office Max, Target, Walmart, and even stores like Rite Aid are all competing for your back to school dollars. But, whether you have realized it or not, many of those deals are coming to a close and you might have missed your window to score the big deals from those big box retail stores.

So, what can you do at this point to save money on your back to school purchases?

1) Start With the Big Expenses

There are often some great deals on notepads and pencils with back to school sales, but saving 50% on a notepad is probably only saving you about $0.40. The percentage of saving sounds great, but in actuality it’s saving you very little by focusing your efforts here. Instead of worrying about losing that 40 cents because you’re late to the show, start thinking about the big ticket items that you’ll need to buy for your kids.

At the beginning of each year, your kids might need a new calculator, some sports equipment, and maybe even a new pair of reading glasses – these are ALL big ticket items. So what is a parent to do if they really need to save money on items like these?


Calculators are all over the place – Craigslist, Amazon, eBay, and even among your friends and family. You don’t have to go to that big box retailer and spend $100. With very minimal effort, you can find the exact model somewhere else for $75. If you’re even more persistent (with phone calls and emails to friends and family), then I bet you can even find one for half price – a savings of $50 or more!

Sports Equipment

There are a few people in every city that scour garage sales, purchase sports equipment, and then resell it for a profit. Even with the upcharge, their prices are still half the cost of brand new. Yes, those shoulder pads might have a little sweat in them, but with a little disinfectant it’s not going to hurt anyone. If you want to find sports equipment for 25% of the cost of new, then you’ll have to travel to a few garage sales yourself. It might take up a little bit more of your time, but it could also save you $20 more than if you would have purchased from the re-seller. Weigh your pros and cons and save to your heart’s desire!

Oh, and by the way, it will not kill your child if you don’t have the money for them to play four different sports. If, even by scouring garage sales, you won’t be able to fund every sport, then simply explain to them that they’ll have to choose only their favorites (perhaps 2 of the 4).


I needed glasses when I was in the 4th grade, and while my mom was thrifty, I don’t think there were as many avenues to save as there are today. She likely spent hundreds of dollars so that I could see clearly and learn effectively in the classroom.

If your child needs “back to school” glasses, simply take your search online. After my dog tore up my $250 pair of glasses, I was able to replace them online for just $16 through Zenni Optical – and this includes the prescription and frames! While I’m sure the glasses aren’t manufactured and assembled in the good old USA, the price is just too cheap to ignore!

2) Save on Clothing

For starters, avoid brand name clothing. It’s expensive, it typically doesn’t last very long, and your kids will definitely survive without it (no matter how much they nag you about it). Instead, start looking at clothes in Meijer, Wal-Mart, or JCPenney. They’ll likely hold up just as long, and at half the price.

If your kids scoff at the idea of wearing off-branded clothing, then take them to the local consignment shops. There, they will find gently used designer clothing – again, at a fraction of the cost of new.

3) Get Creative or Wait

If you have indeed missed all the sales and can’t seem to find deals anywhere else, then perhaps it’s time to get a little more creative. When I’ve needed something, but missed the big sale, then I’d move onto these other less thought-of options:

Rewards Points – If you use a credit card that offers reward points, then perhaps you have enough rewards to get a helpful gift card shipped to your house (which you can then use to buy your back to school supplies). Check your card online to view your point total.

Trade in Gift Cards – If you’re like me, you’ve received gift cards in the past, but have never made it a priority to use them. If they can’t be used directly for the back to school items that you need, then consider trading them in for cash (this can be explored with a simple Google search). Either that, or simply post your gift cards on Craigslist. If you have a $25 gift card, you should be able to get at least $20 cash, which you can then use on the supplies you need. It’s a win for you and a win for the purchaser of your card.

Promo Codes/Coupons – If you must purchase a retail item, then at the very least search for a promo code or coupon. Simply visit and you should be able to find a discount of some sort. If you simply can’t get a deal of any sort, then I would move on to the next suggestion…

Wait – While back to school shopping might often seem urgent, it rarely ever is. You likely have some pens and pencils at home, and you probably have a few empty notebooks as well. Get your kids started on what they have while you wait for the next sale to come along. With all the different retailers of pens, pencils, and notebooks out there, you probably won’t have to wait long before you find the deal you need.

Were you able to score big deals on your back to school shopping this year?

Derek Sall
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