Tips to slash back-to-school shopping costs

Parents will be shelling out more for school supplies this year with spending potentially reaching $41.5 billion and just about every major item costing more than a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation.

That translates to about $890 per family, $25 more than a year ago, and a new high as inflation remains a headwind for the economy.

Since American families are faced with rising costs, FOX Business asked money experts how to make the most of your back-to-school spending budgets. 

Take an inventory of what you already have

Consider what you have on hand so you don’t spend unnecessarily. 

“Last year’s backpack may contain supplies that can be reused, and the backpack itself may need a good wash,” says Trae Bodge, a shopping expert at Truetrae.com. Also, have kids try on all their school clothing to weed out what still fits and what needs to be replaced, Bodge added.

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School supplies

School supplies are displayed at Stationery and Toy World in New York City ahead of back-to-school season July 21, 2021. (REUTERS/Joyce Philippe / Reuters Photos)

Use a browser extension when online shopping

Get the most ‘bang for your back-to-school buck with a browser extension. 

“Shop competitively by using coupons and historical price comparisons more strategically,” Bodge advised. 

For instance, with a few clicks at checkout, the PayPal Honey mobile and desktop browser extensions automatically search for, and test, the best coupons. 

“The historical pricing feature also helps you know that you’re getting a good price, and you can also add items to the PayPal Honey Droplist and get automatically notified if the price drops and the item goes on sale,” she says. 

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Reap community and state offers

If you’re in a situation where you’re financially strapped, you should utilize any resources available to you in your town, Bodge suggested. 

“Look for potential community resources, like loaned laptops offered by the schools and school supply packs for families in need,” Bodge added. She also recommends checking for state tax-free holidays; every state tax-free holiday is different, so get familiar with the details before you shop. 

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A checkout at Walmart, back-to-school

A cashier scans school supplies for a customer at a Walmart in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Consider second-hand options and community swaps

Gently used items can also be gentle on your wallet. 

“Find a local school supply swap or online community group for a cost-effective way to stock up or sell gently-used items you no longer need,” Bodge said. 

Spread your payments out

If you need items right away but want to strategically stretch your budget, applications like PayPal Pay Later, for instance, give you the flexibility to split payments over time, says Bodge. 

“PayPal Pay Later is a really good way to make a purchase and spread it out over multiple weeks or months. It’s a solution that I like to use,” she adds.  

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Get rewarded for back-to-school shopping

Choose a flexible credit card that aligns with your back-to-school spending needs. For instance, the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card (with 0% APR for new cardholders) offers you the ability to earn 3% cash back in one of six categories of your choice each month, including online shopping, drug stores and dining. 

“For example, select the ‘online shopping’ category to earn 3% cash back during the months you’re doing the bulk of your shopping,” Jason Gaughan, head of consumer credit card products at Bank of America, explained.

“As the school year continues, assess where you’re spending the most, and switch your choice category to match your next set of financial goals.”

People shopping, back-to-school

Shoppers peruse notebooks and other back-to-school items in a Walmart in Rolling Meadows, Ill.  (Tim Boyle/Getty Images / Getty Images)

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Utilize student discounts

Being a student has its perks. 

“Check the retailers and your school’s website for any exclusive promotions for students before making the purchase,” Gaughan says. And, as you’re paying for your purchase, be sure to ask if the store offers a student discount. 

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Join loyalty programs

Your favorite retailers often boast loyalty programs. 

“Many retailers offer their own loyalty programs that customers can join and earn rewards for future savings and discounts,” Gaughan added.