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Back-to-school budget survival guide: How moms and dads can save time and money
July 27 2022, 08:00

Inflation is the highest it’s been in four decades, as every parent today knows all too well. Between the gas pumps, the grocery store and pretty much everywhere else, consumers are feeling the pinch.

Add to that the expenses involved as our kids go back to school soon (supplies, clothes, lunches, gear) — and it’s just about a recipe for financial disaster. 

As a mom of four school-aged children, I know this quite well (my weekly grocery bill was upward of $600 recently!). A survey from Deloitte said that parents will spend an average of more than $600 per kid this year, which represents an increase of 8%.


If you’re a parent of multiple kids, you need to plan on spending thousands of dollars even before you snap that first-day photo at the bus stop.

To alleviate the upcoming late-summer money squeeze, here are some of the best places to shop for essential supplies for your children — plus experts' top tips on saving by category.

Lauren Greutman, an Oswego, New York-based frugal living expert and mom of four, believes that warehouse clubs can save families up to $500 a year. 

For just a small annual fee, chains such as BJ’s, Costco and Sam’s Club offer food, supplies and most other household items such as toiletries (and in some cases, even other items like electronics, clothes and shoes) at a discount. 

Why? Because people buy in bulk (you need to become a member in order to shop).

When it comes to clothing your kids for the upcoming school year, Greutman also suggests shopping online through cash-back sites such as Swagbucks or Ebates.

She also recommends looking for coupons on sites like Retailmenot, plus online clothing swap groups. 

"My kids’ school has a Facebook group where parents swap gently used clothing that their kids have grown out of it," she says.


If your school doesn’t have something similar, this would be a great time to start one.

In the same vein, check out online thrift shops such as, and — all of which offer clothing at a deep discount off the retail prices.

Nina Tooley, an Idaho-based mom and the founder of The Cool Down, swears by online thrifting. 

For example, sneakers can be one of the biggest expenses but something you don’t want to skimp on — and a recent search on ThredUP showed a pair of New Balance Sneakers in good condition for just $19.99. 

"As a bonus, you’re helping to prevent waste and pollution, too," said Tooley.

Outlet shops have always been a smart go-to — and Tooley agrees; they can be an alluring prospect for parents. 

"The key is to make sure the quality is the same, as sometimes brands will manufacture a separate line for the outlet stores, where the quality just isn’t as good," explains Tooley.

Also, be careful not to get sucked into impulse buying. 

"Sometimes when we think we’re getting a deal, we'll actually walk out with 10 more bags of items we didn’t intend to buy — and spend more." 

Hitting the store armed with a list — and sticking to it — can be helpful to avoid the urge to splurge.

Another helpful tip: Buy clothes that’ll go the distance, so that you won’t have to replace them right away. 

Greutman advises investing in "staples," as opposed to trendier items. For example, a website known as PatPat offers a collection called GoNeat, which are essentially T-shirts for kids that are stain-resistant, for under $15. 


Shoe line PediPed ( offers a solution for fast-growing feet. It's a line that comes equipped with its Flex Fit System, which provides an additional 2-millimeter insert used to customize the fit of your child’s shoe.

Supplies can be tough. The school or the teachers provide a list and you’re expected to purchase everything on it. 

In this case, the early bird gets the savings. 

Joe Lemay is founder and CEO of Rocketbook, a school-supply company based in Boston, Massachusetts. 

He says that "companies will often discount their tools ahead of the school year — so parents should be proactive and sign up for newsletters or email alerts from their favorite brands to stay on top of any upcoming sale periods."

Reusable water bottles aren’t the only thing savvy parents are buying. 

For around $44, you can buy Rocketbook’s reusable multi-subject notebook, which allows students to write on its 70 pages with a special pen and then simply wipe it clean when done. 

This not only allows it to be reusable; it cuts down on purchasing multiple notebooks for different subjects. 

Rocketbook products are also cloud-connected via the company’s app, so you can save and store notes.

Purchasing key items in bulk can also be helpful, such as pencils, index cards and folders, especially if you have more than one child.

You can also split bulk deals with other parents who are shopping for the same items (here’s where that swap Facebook group might come in handy!).

Feeding our children healthy lunches is even more challenging today, given inflation.


"Avoid items that conveniently come in single or individual servings," says Tooley, as these items are often more costly. 

Instead, buy the bulk items (such as the big container of Goldfish crackers or the big bunch of carrots) and ziplock bags in bulk (or even at the dollar store).

This will last you for weeks and save you money. Planning will also help when it comes to bulk shopping. 

"Pick a few lunch combos you can put on repeat, such as sandwiches with carrots, crackers and apple slices," advises Tooley, "as this will make it easier on you and cheaper, too."

Tooley also recommends investing in a durable and washable stainless steel lunch box (one with separate compartments can even cut down on those plastic bags). 

A leak-proof one can be found on Amazon for $25; Tooley claims her 8-year-old has used the same one since pre-school.

Food co-ops are a way for a group of individuals to come together, buy in bulk and enjoy huge savings. 

"Just imagine gathering with 1,000 people who are looking for the same product and negotiating a wholesale price to split among its participants," says Greutman. 

Co-ops are set up around the country and are a great way to save on fruit, veggies, dairy products and even meats, she says. 

One great resource is LocalHarvest.Org; try to find the closest one to you.

Bottled water, milk and juice boxes can get expensive. Don’t forget the reusable water bottle. Look for one that’s stainless steel, chip-proof, dishwasher safe and has minimal parts to clean and maintain.


Amazon offers a great variety for decent prices and free shipping if you’re a prime member.

What happens outside the school can get costly, too. This means sports and extracurricular activities. 

Even if your child’s chosen sport (or sports) is school-based, you still need to invest in gear, uniforms, practice clothes, balls and more. 

Combined, my household of four kids engages in six different sports — that’s a lot of gear! 

I came across a company called Plate Crate (, which offers a monthly subscription box for sports like soccer and baseball, and saves consumers 50% off the contents if you'd purchased them at retail. 

This mom is also a huge fan of the chain Dick’s, which sends you coupons if you subscribe to their Scorecard program, email and text alerts.