School-Bus-ClipartIt’s that time again! The summer has flown by and school is once again upon us. Here are a few reminders of how to get the best value for your dollar when shopping for everything from school supplies to the needed new school clothes. Loving The “Two For One” – (Financial Literacy and Back to School Budgets) – Why not teach your teen two things at once such as financial literacy by using a back to school budget? Set a spending amount on a prepaid card or their own supplemental card (I added cards on my American Express account) and coach them on what their limits are for the shopping season. Whether the budget is $50 for your teen to buy school supplies or $500 for your college student to buy dorm room essentials, you can monitor how they are spending and coach them on the best ways to use their budgeted money.

Layer the Savings – In today’s economy it is no longer enough to just save by buying something on sale—today, you have to layer the savings. For the store, this means buying items on sale when you also have a coupon. Go to to see what is on sale in your neighborhood and the matching coupon. For online shopping, look for sale items where you can also use a coupon or coupon code to save on the price, shipping and more. Go to or to find the right code. It requires a little research, but it can also translate into hundreds of dollars of savings for your back to school season.

Loss Leaders – When shopping for back to school, take advantage of the loss leaders that retailers are offering. You may get that name brand shoe for 50% off and they are hoping you’ll do the rest of your shopping at their store as well. If you take advantage of all the different stores’ loss leaders by shopping at places that honor competitor’s ads, you’ll not only save money, but you’ll save gas and time.

Little from Big – When planning for kids school lunches this coming fall, buy lunch staples in larger sizes to save by buying in bulk, then repackage them into smaller sizes. For example, take that 5 pound bag of mini carrots and put them in snack sized plastic bags for a healthy and affordable option for lunch at a 30% savings over buying the smaller pre-packaged sizes.

Logistical Savings – When our kids went out of state to college and we had to buy items for their dorm rooms, we chose online retailers who also had physical stores in the town where they went to school. These vendors had site to store options where they would send the products to one of their local stores and not charge a shipping fee. This option allowed us to shop at our leisure online, incorporate all the savings factors we could, and have the convenience of our kids going to their local store to pick up the items we ordered. For example, Walmart’s site to store program offers free shipping to the local store for pickup.

Limited Spending Plan – One technique we’ve used for all our children, whether they are in elementary school or college is to make saving money a family affair. We give the kids a spending plan, telling them how much money we will give them for their back to school budget. The fun comes in when we tell them that they get to keep what they do not spend. So if we’ve budgeted $75 for tennis shoes and they find them on sale for $35, then they get to pocket the extra $40. It’s amazing how our kids can distinguish between “needs” and “wants” when it comes to this added motivation of learning ways to spend less and save more. This fresh idea not only saves our family money, but it has trained all our children in money matters, making them more adept as young adults.

Lengthen The Shopping Season – One of the reasons families overspend for back to school items is because they are locked into the idea that they need all the school supplies, clothes and gadgets the first week of school. In reality, the majority of these items will be on sales or clearance, especially clothing, within the first month after school starts. So consider letting your child start the year with just enough clothing to get a good start and finish out their wardrobe as key items go on clearance. The same can apply to backpacks, lunch boxes and sporting equipment. As long as they have a prepaid card or a supplemental card with their limit, you’ll find yourself right on track and get more for less.

Leverage High Tech Savings – One thing that I’ve learned as a mother of seven is that I only have a limited amount of time to teach my kids the things that matter most in life. By making back to school shopping a family effort, I’ve been able to train our kids in money matters in fun ways that incorporate their strengths. For example, I let our teenagers shop in a different part of the mall, encouraging them to do their online research by comparing store prices with other deals on their smart phones. For example, they see a scientific calculator in the electronics store for their algebra class, they can search to see if it’s the best price. Then they text me the numbers and I give them approval to buy it, which empowers them to contribute to our family’s economic well being while allowing them to learn financial literacy as well.

Long run Lessons – Every year, I’ve used back to school shopping as a key opportunity for my kids to learn financial literacy lessons. By setting them up with a budget through the use of a PASS or SUPP card, I’ve been able to teach them how to spend wisely and then helped them start to develop a good credit score when they are 18. They key is that I get tomonitor and track their spending so they can’t fail. The result is that my children have great scores at young ages. In fact, my 22 year old son, had a 750 credit score when he graduated, good enough to prequalify for a townhouse mortgage!

Look for Scholarships – Millions of dollars of scholarship money go unclaimed every year. This is free-lunch money that parents or prospective students who are willing to do some detective work may find more quickly than they think. has over 1.9 million scholarships to research valued at 16 billion dollars! You child, for example, could write a 500 word essay on skateboarding or other areas of interest—there are thousands of scholarships that go unused every year because kids don’t apply for them. Don’t forget to have students apply to local civic organizations and community scholarships as well—the high school counselor should have a list of these scholarships.

Locate Discount Books – Buying your books from a used bookstore can save money, but buying them online can save even more. My son, a journalism major, bought had a book that was $150 new, $30 at a used book store and he found it for $1.50 at You can also try Campus Books, Half.comAbe Books to compare prices across the internet to find the best values. Just be sure to buy them two weeks before classes start. As soon as you get your book list, begin your search because the early bird gets the best value on books!

Happy Back to School Savings!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

©2016-2020 Ellie Kay


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