Back to School Shopping on a Budget


I hate to be the bearer of bad news but school starts in less than two weeks for most Missoula kids.  As much as I don’t want to accept the reality that our laid back, summer-style living is coming to an end, I do know that I’d better get into gear in order to save some cash on the boys’ school supplies.

With schools’ budgets being tighter and tighter, the need for more supplies is being placed on parents.  This means we need to financially prepare for this time of year or it could impact our budget significantly.  Here are some tips and advice to ease you back into the school mode for this year!

First of all, get a list of the necessary items your child needs.  These lists are usually available at the local discount stores (Shopko, Walmart, Target, etc) or maybe you were lucky enough to have a teacher send one home the last day of school.  This is an important guide in your shopping because it will define your budget.  Go over this list with your children so they know what they need and what they do NOT need!

Second, go shopping in your house before hitting the stores!  You may be surprised at what you have in your cupboards.  The first place I always start is the backpacks and / or bookbags the kids brought home on the last day of school!  Over the years, I’ve discovered I don’t have to buy new scissors or pencil boxes each year because the kids usually have them from last year.   I also try to stock up on supplies throughout the year.  I have an over-the-door shoe organizer on the door in our home office.  When I see crayons for 25 cents or markers for 99 cents, I stock up and store them in my little “school supply organizer.”  This comes in handy around late November, when the kids have broken all their crayons at school or have sharpened their pencils down to nubs.

Once you have shopped your own shelves and (hopefully) crossed off a few things from your list, then it’s time to hit the stores.  I would suggest shopping many of the ads before heading out.  Each store will have different items at different prices.  If you have the patience to shop a few different stores for their sale items, you will save the most.  If you prefer to shop in a single store, then shop at one that will price match the other retailers.

Since back-to-school shopping is almost a “retail holiday,” you will find back-to-school items in a variety of stores.  Just this evening, I found some cute supplies at JoAnn fabrics for 50% off!  Who knew a craft store would have school supplies?!  Dollar stores, craft stores, and office supply stores are great places to find some wonderful prices.  One of my favorite school shopping places is Staples and you can bet I’ll be hitting their sales this week pretty hard.

As you’re shopping with your children, look at it as an opportunity to teach them about budgeting.  Before you leave home, go over the list with them.  Tell them your budget and explain if they want to exceed the budget, they may do so with their own money.   This helps them evaluate whether or not having the trendiest backpack is really necessary.   You can also teach them how to balance things — if they buy the discounted pens and pencils, then they will have some extra cash to spend on designer notebooks.

Another idea is to buy the plain Jane items and let the kids personalize them with stickers and such.  Even a plain backpack can be turned into an expensive looking item with some personalization.  Check out craft stores for monograms—even in rhinestones—which can easily be applied to the backpack for very little money.

Usually, the week after school starts supplies get marked down.  Most kids don’t need everything during the first week, so it pays to wait until the second week of school to fill that list.  Turn a deaf ear to your children’s pleas of “But I HAVE to have it all today!” and budget some cash for season-end discount buys. That’s the time to stock up on the basics which will be needed all year: binder paper, composition books, spiral notebooks, pencils, erasers, crayons and markers.

If it’s back-to-school itime, it means the holidays won’t be far behind. Clearance-priced school supplies make great Christmas stocking stuffers. A quick trip after school begins, when school supplies  once are significantly marked down, can fill Santa’s stockings on a budget!

Hopefully, you can follow a few of these tips and discover that the end of summer doesn’t have to be a drain on the wallet!  Get your school shopping done and enjoy these last few weeks of summer with your kiddos!  I know I’ll be spending lots of quality time with the boys before sadly sending them off to school on the 29th!

Enjoy this blog?  You might also like Erin’s previous posts on Discount Shopping Deals…Even on Vacation,  Orchard Homes Country Life Club Celebrates 100 Years and 10 places to Hunt for Coupons.   AND, be sure to check out the “Missoula Save it Club”  on the home page of (See the Daily Missoula Fix buttons in the left navigation bar) for savings updates throughout the week!

Back to the Save It blog home page.

Click here to see the Coupon Queen’s “Save It” archive.


Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian.  Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques and trying to maintain a well-run, happy and organized home for her family.