Cross items off your back-to-school list with these tips

(Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Target)

Once upon a time, kids went to school with a backpack, a lunch pail and a pencil. Now, school supply lists seem a mile long, and parents anticipate a stack of receipts a mile high.

Before you start back-to-school shopping for your elementary or high school student, find ways to cut down on the number of supplies you have to buy. Here’s how.


In 2017, some 65 percent of back-to-school shoppers said half or more of their purchases are a direct result of their children’s influence, according to a National Retail Federation survey.

Bringing your children to the store when you shop could lead to more items in your shopping cart — and more pressure to buy specific products.

To avoid this, get your children involved in the process ahead of time. Have them browse store ads at home and point out things they like before you shop, recommends Deborah Meyer, a certified financial planner and owner of WorthyNest financial firm in Missouri.

When it comes time to hit the stores, leave the kids at home. That way, you can decide what to buy and what to leave on the shelf.

“So if you find something that’s $5 less ... put that in the basket instead of going for that more expensive item,” Meyer says.


If you’d rather take your kids with you, teach them about budgeting and prioritization, recommends Jill Fopiano, CEO and president of O’Brien Wealth Partners LLC in Boston.

“They should get what they really need, of course, but maybe also one or two things that they really want,” Fopiano says. “And perhaps they put some of their allowance money toward that.”

In fact, in recent years, students are contributing more of their own money toward back-to-school purchases, according to Katherine Cullen, director of retail and consumer insights at the National Retail Federation.


Some items can be skipped altogether, or at least avoided for a while. Say no to excessive items, Fopiano says.

“That 100-box of crayons may seem pretty tempting, but in reality, the novelty will wear off pretty quickly. So stick to the basics and really just the essential items.”

Follow the supply list from your child’s teacher. And even then, exercise discretion. Over the years, more items have been added to school supply lists, like electronics. To counter the extra cost, remove, reduce or swap out some items.

For example, just because the list calls for large quantities doesn’t mean you need them all right away. “They certainly don’t need 48 pencils the first day,” Fopiano says. “Even the biggest pencil-breaker or chewer doesn’t need 48 the first day.”

Remember, you have room within categories as well. A digital planner app could substitute for a paperbound planner. A quality backpack can get the job done, even if it’s not the exact pattern or character your child wants. “I don’t know of a single school that’s like, ‘OK, you must have this specific backpack,’” Meyer says.


For those things you do have to buy, don’t feel compelled to purchase everything at once. In recent years, shoppers have extended the back-to-school shopping season, according to Cullen.

“What we’ve seen is that more people are starting their shopping two months before classes start,” she says. “And one of the primary reasons they are doing that is to stretch out their budgets and capture deals all season long.”

There are deals throughout the summer. For instance, Amazon has hosted a Prime Day sale in July, and other retailers offer deals at the same time. Some states offer tax-free weekends in late July and early August, when consumers can purchase some back-to-school items without paying sales tax.

Another money-saving strategy? Subscribe to monthly supply deliveries during the school year. Cullen says retailers like Target and Amazon offer a discount when you sign up for recurring deliveries of items like office supplies. You can opt into a regular shipment of computer paper, for instance.

With these tips, that school supply list — and your credit card bill — will be shorter.

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet.