11 Ways to Cut School Costs Without Cutting Quality

by Colleen Stinchcombe
Sep 22, 2017 at 6:25 p.m. ET

Back-to-school shopping doesn't have to make you afraid to check your account balance or make you deep-dive into a dwindling savings account. Sure, it seems like every year teachers add more to the growing list of necessary supplies and retailers find a way to make the things your kid wants a little more expensive, not to mention it feels like you're elbowing your way through the apocalypse in the big-box stores just to get to a box of mechanical pencils... but it doesn't have to be this way. Your kids can get the supplies they need and you can have peace of mind knowing you scored some awesome deals. Whether it's the easiest places to score coupons, how to get the most out of a gift card, or racking up points on your purchases, we've got it covered.

Check out these simple tips to save money on back-to-school shopping.

This post was sponsored by Smucker's® and Jif®.

1/12 :Do an inventory

Chances are there are spiral-bound notebooks and composition books that have gone unused, not to mention forgotten pencils. Take the time to do a scan of the house to see what the kids already have and can use at the beginning of the school year.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that discounts tend to happen after the initial back-to-school season, and even if there’s only half a notebook’s worth of paper in a binder, kids can use that at the beginning of year while you score any leftover supplies for a steep discount later.

2/12 :Check thrift stores

People are hip to this trick, so you might find the shelves bare at back-to-school time, but it’s worth checking your local thrift store for school supplies. Backpacks, pencil boxes and even paper planners can be found here.

Of course, you can also do clothes shopping if your kids are patient or even excited about hunting for something unique. For fashion-conscious kids, remind them that thrift stores are an excellent place to find a cool vest, pants or sweater that nobody else at school will be wearing. Or if your child finds the thrift store experience overwhelming, consider having them explore while you do the heavy lifting of finding a handful of staple clothing items in their size to try on.

3/12 :Look for coupons & cash back

Coupons abound during back-to-school season. You can spend time digging through your local coupon book, but searching online makes it even simpler. RetailMeNot, FatWallet and Valpak all have thousands of coupons to peruse.

If there are stores you find yourself hitting up every back-to-school season, make sure you’re signed up for their email blasts and rewards programs to hear about their best deals and receive their loyalty coupons. Some even have apps, like Target's new Cartwheel app.

Beyond coupons, you can also look for websites that offer cash-back options for shopping through them, like Ebates, BeFrugal and CouponCabin.

4/12 :Wait to upgrade nonessentials

Sure, it’s nice to walk into school with a brand new backpack and lunchbox, but if you can convince your child to wait for a few weeks, these bigger items will be on sale and look just as cool.

5 /12: DIY decorations for supplies like pens, binders

5/12 :DIY decorations for supplies like pens, binders

Kids often want flashy school gear, and brands know it, which is why they charge more for decorated binders and backpacks. Encourage your child’s creativity by having them decorate their own school gear with stickers, drawings and patches. It will help keep costs down for you while giving them a sense of accomplishment.

6 /12: See if your state has a tax-free shopping day

6/12 :See if your state has a tax-free shopping day

During the back-to-school season, many states sponsor tax-free days that allow you to shop at your favorite locations without sales tax. See if your state is on the list, and plan to do the bulk of your school shopping on that date.

7 /12: Buy unused gift cards at a discount

7/12 :Buy unused gift cards at a discount

Kids love a certain retailer? Always find yourself at the same superstore buying supplies? Consider buying gift cards to do your shopping with.

Two of the most popular websites to do so are GiftCards.com and CardCash. GiftCards.com allows you to earn rewards on the gift cards you purchase, while CardCash allows you to buy gift cards to your favorite stores at a discount — these cards can be as much as 25 percent off.

8/12 :Set up a swap

You’re not the only parent out there trying to save money on school supplies. Check out websites like Swapmamas.com, Craigslist, and even Facebook Marketplace to see if you can make a trade with other parents in your area for supplies you need and they need to get rid of.

9 /12: Sign up for that rewards credit card

9/12 :Sign up for that rewards credit card

Signing up for a new credit card may not seem like a money-saving tactic, but if you’ve been meaning to get another one anyway, back-to-school season can be a great time to rack up extra points or sign-on bonuses. The Chase Sapphire card, for example, gives a 50,000 bonus-point reward for spending $4,000 in the first three months.

10/12 :Buy big-ticket items used

If your student is older, electronic items like graphing calculators can get expensive. Consider buying them used from places like Amazon Warehouse.

Sports equipment and musical instruments are also worth looking for secondhand. EBay or your local used sports or music store can be good choices. And when your child outgrows the equipment or the interest, remember that you can sell these to the next parent who needs them too.

11/12 :Keep it simple at lunchtime

It's tempting to go all-out on your child's lunch, but simple staples can be made exciting with a few tweaks. Take, for example, this fun "sushi roll" twist on the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich from Smucker's® and Jif®. Keeping it simple saves you time, energy and money, and your kid still gets to eat something delicious for lunch.

12/12 :Pin it!

Don't forget to pin this list!