Back-to-School Spending Is Up This Year: Here’s Where You Should Cut Costs First

Mother choosing buying stationery in store preparing for first day in school.

Whether you are a parent shopping for school supplies or a student going back to school, particularly a college student, you’re undoubtedly feeling the pressure of increased school spending. Many students had fewer physical supplies costs in 2020 due to COVID-19-driven virtual learning. This, coupled with historically high inflation for consumer goods, may mean that you’re feeling the pinch of back-to-school spending even more painfully this year. Of course, most school supplies are nonnegotiable, so while you may not be able to cut back on those costs, you can cut costs in other ways to help soothe the sting to your budget.

Explore: The Cost of Education in the United States
See: The Hidden Costs of Education at Every Level

Make a Budget

If you haven’t made a proper budget in some time, you might not realize just how much money you have going out. Sitting down with a spreadsheet, an app or good old-fashioned paper and pen to chart expenses and income can help you take a good honest look at where you need to cut corners.

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Budgeting 101: How To Create a Budget You Can Live With

Shop With Coupons

If you typically throw away those mailers with all the coupons, or just don’t bother to use them, now is the time to start. You’d be amazed at what you can save if you start to add them up, particularly on groceries and household goods. If you’re not a big paper coupon fan, check out sites like, which aggregate virtual coupons, or cash-back apps like Ibotta. Now might also be a good time to check out Groupon for deals on all manner of things from entertainment to clothing.

Discover: 30 Things You Should Never Buy Without a Coupon

Get a Store Membership

Now might be a good time to get a Costco membership, a Target RedCard (which gives you a 5% discount on all purchases) or any other kind of big-box store account that offers you special discounts just for being a member.

Find Out: How Much Does a Costco Membership Really Save You?

Buy Generic

If you’re still clinging to big brand names for everything from food to clothing, consider going generic — in most cases, you don’t lose quality, quantity or flavor and save yourself sometimes a significant amount of cash in the process.

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Read: Best and Worst Things to Buy Generic

Cut Back on Subscriptions

If you weren’t big on subscriptions before the pandemic — from entertainment services to meditation apps, to name a few — you probably added more than before during the long phase of lockdowns. Now, however, if you’re looking to shave off some expenses, look to see if you really need all that you’re paying for. If you’ve got more than one streaming service, pick the one you watch most. Do you really need that exercise app now that your gym is open? How about online newspaper subscriptions — if you look, you will likely be able to find at least a few that you can put on pause until your finances rebound.

Check Out: Which Streaming Services Give You the Most for Your Money?

Reduce Dining Out or Takeout

Many of us got into the habit of eating takeout during the pandemic, or, once things reopened, returning to dining out. Eating away from home adds up quickly (not to mention food delivery services add extra fees). According to, the average family spends $3,000 on eating away from home each year! Eating at home can reap significant savings.

More: Here’s How Much Restaurants Mark Up Your Food

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Consolidate or Pay Off Debt

If you’re carrying debt, such as a credit card or loan, you’re likely paying a chunk of interest, often as much as 16% to 30%, according to This interest is, essentially, wasted money. If you can pay off or down a debt, transfer a credit card to one with lower interest or consolidate multiple accounts into one, you’ll reduce the amount of interest you’re paying and arrive more quickly at a stage where you can begin to save money.

Get Started: 19 Ways To Tackle Your Budget and Manage Your Debt

Pay With Cash

A little hack to spend less money is to take out cash for only a certain amount each week. From that pay for groceries, gas and essentials only, and you may surprise yourself by saving. At the very least, you won’t make any online impulse buys.

Try: Fun Money Games To Try If You’re Struggling With Saving

Refinance Your Home

If you own a home, look into refinancing your mortgage, particularly if the current interest rates are lower than what you first signed on for. A refinance can save you hundreds of dollars per month if you do it at the right time and get the right kind. Speak with your lender or a loan professional, according to Forbes, to make sure that your new loan is a better deal than your current one.

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Last updated: Aug. 12, 2021

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About the Author

Jordan Rosenfeld is a freelance writer and author of nine books. She holds a B.A. from Sonoma State University and an MFA from Bennington College. Her articles and essays about finances and other topics has appeared in a wide range of publications and clients, including The Atlantic, The Billfold, Good Magazine, GoBanking Rates, Daily Worth, Quartz, Medical Economics, The New York Times, Ozy, Paypal, The Washington Post and for numerous business clients. As someone who had to learn many of her lessons about money the hard way, she enjoys writing about personal finance to empower and educate people on how to make the most of what they have and live a better quality of life.

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