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Frugal Hacks for Back-to-School Shopping on a Shoestring Budget


When our toddler started school last month, after the end of her summer holidays, do you know how much we spent on her school shopping? Zero. Nada. Nothing. Did she go back to school without items that she needed the most? Umm, no.

Back-to-school shopping, in my opinion, is just another marketing gimmick by companies to lure us and our sweet, impressionable kids into buying more stuff.

Having said that, I realize that sometimes one does need to stock up on school supplies and wardrobe must-haves, so I have a list of essentials and tips on how to shop for them on a budget.

1. Make Your List of Must-Haves for a School Year

Begin by drawing up a list of must-haves for a school year. Don’t think about whether you have to buy something or not, just write it down.

My list for my preschooler looks like this :

For School:

  • Lunchbox
  • Water bottle
  • Backpack

For Craft Activities:

  • Crayons, Markers in Red and Black – one thick and one thin
  • Washable Poster Paint
  • Homemade Play Dough
  • Air Drying Clay
  • White drawing Sheets, colored carstock, construction paper
  • Magazines for collages
  • Buttons,Sequins, Glitter, Wool, Sponges
  • Big tub or tube of white glue, cellotape, double-sided sticky tape
  • Scissors
  • A Box to hold everything in

That’s pretty much it for us.

If you have older kids or are more crafty than yours truly, you’ll appreciate the craft supplies checklist that Jessica has over at Life as Mom.

2. Check Everything You Already Have

Next, before you hit the stores with the above list, go through everything you already own.

A new school year does not qualify for a new backpack or lunchbox unless the ones you one are broken, torn or beyond use in any other way.

Similarly, for craft supplies, check your existing supplies, cross them off the list and only then head to the store.

For the wardrobe, my toddler or preschooler needs t-shirts, a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, a few dresses(she’s a girl!), a couple of skirts, a couple of leggings or slacks, vests and underwear. She has 2 pairs of shoes – sneakers and sandals.

I replace only those items that she’s outgrown or those that have faded or become too shabby to wear outside. The latter goes into her pile of “at-home” clothes.

3. Scout for Discounts, Specials and Sales

Next, depending on what you need, spend a little time looking for discounts and sales. My favorite places online are SoSasta (India’s Groupon) and Snapdeal. I also check out our favorite clothing stores to see if they’re having a sale.

For stationery and craft supplies, I love discount or bargain stores, both online and offline . However, remember to stick to your list and not succumb to the temptation that BOGO or 70% off offers.

4. Hold a Back-to-School Swap Party

This is something that a friend of mine did and I think it is a brilliant idea. Take all the clothes that your toddler’s outgrown but are still in newish condition. You’ll be surprised at how many of them there are!

If you want, you can also do this with pencil boxes, backpacks and lunchboxes.

Next, invite your friends who have kids of the same age and ask them to bring their back-to-school swap items. Then, have fun getting things that you need without spending a single penny!

5. More Money-Saving Mantras for School Season

  • Just because you used something last year, doesn’t mean you’ll need it this year. So, don’t replace everything. Example: Tennis gear for a child who’s no longer interested in the sport.
  • Teach children, especially preschoolers, about valuing what they have. A new school year does not qualify for a new backpack unless the older one is torn or beyond repair.
  • Kids outgrow clothes and shoes. Fast. Don’t buy three t-shirts in the same size even if you’re getting them at 60% off if your toddler already has 10 in the closet.
  • You don’t need to buy everything for the school year when it starts. Clothes and craft supplies can easily be bought on an as-needed basis or when you spot a steal.
  • Use birthdays and holidays to stock up on school essentials. Does your toddler need a new backpack in the middle of the school year? Let Grandpa “gift” it to him on Christmas.

How do you save money on shopping for back-to-school season?


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  1. Prerna,
    Great tips. I totally agree about “back to school” marketing. I don’t know if it’s an American thing or just me, but I try to have about 3 weeks of outfits for each of my kids. I like to have a buffer in case I don’t have time to do laundry or they get really dirty every day. I definitely need to work with my oldest child on valuing what he has and forgetting the assumption that we will replace everything next school year. I guess less stuff does lead to less clutter (and cleaning!).

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