13 Ways People Waste Money on Back-to-School Shopping

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Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Back-to-school shopping season will soon be upon us, and it’s easy to get swept up in the various spending temptations you’ll encounter. If you don’t make careful shopping decisions, it’s easy to waste money on things you don’t actually need or that aren’t worth it.

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Here are a few common ways you could be wasting money on back-to-school shopping.

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Not Taking an Inventory of What You Already Have

When you get a shopping list from your kids’ school, it’s easy just to go down the list and buy everything new.

“The problem is, once you get home and start assembling items for your kids’ backpacks, you might realize that some of their supplies from last year are still usable. And you forgot about those supplies you’ve been storing in the basement,” said Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at TrueTrae.com. “To avoid this, don’t shop until you’ve taken an inventory at home.”

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Missing a Sales Tax Holiday

“Many states have a sales tax holiday, which means that if you don’t wait to shop during that period, you paid sales tax when you didn’t need to,” Bodge said.

Here’s a list of states with sales tax holidays in 2022.

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Neglecting To Use Deal Sites

“Many retailers will be having sales, which is great, but you can often do even better by using a deal site,” Bodge said.

“Sites like Slickdeals.net will potentially have additional offers, like cash back or stackable coupons to make your savings even great. Slickdeals’ Deal Alert feature is also handy. If you need a specific item, like a scientific calculator or a Chromebook, set a deal alert for it so you’ll be notified once it goes on sale.”

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Not Shopping in Bulk

You may not associate back-to-school shopping with buying in bulk, but forgetting about this option is a missed opportunity for saving.

“Shopping in bulk can be up to 40% less expensive, so if you have a membership to Sam’s Club, Costco or BJ’s, now is the time to use it for items like binders, folders, notebooks and pens,” Bodge said. “If you have an only child, consider splitting your haul with classmates or friends.”

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Caving Into Pressure for Designer Clothes

“If your kids are begging for pricey designer items, this is a teachable moment,” Bodge said. “Explain the impact of one expensive item on your budget, and if they really push, insist that they pay the overage out of their own money.”

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Spending Your Whole Clothing Budget Before School Starts

“There will be lots of great back-to-school clothing sales before school starts, but if your kids are into clothes, set aside some of your clothing budget for after school starts,” Bodge said. “Once school starts, they’ll inevitably scope out some cool trend and come home begging for a few more things. This way, you’ll already have budgeted for this!”

Plus, fall clothing items often get discounted even deeper later on in the season.


Not Planning Ahead

Although it’s convenient to do all of your back-to-school shopping in one place, this likely means you’ll be overspending on some items.

“Parents who don’t look for deals ahead of time may be spending more on school supplies than they need to,” said Jason Blom, RVP of Shopkick, a shopping rewards app. “Comparing prices online before even leaving the house ensures they get the best price.”

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Buying Everything New

“It’s no secret that kids grow out of their clothes fast, so parents can look to alternatives to buying all their kids’ clothes new by heading to local thrift stores for great options offered at significantly discounted prices,” Blom said.

“When it comes to shopping online, reseller websites such as eBay, Depop or Poshmark are great alternatives to paying full price for back-to-school clothing.”

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Missing Back-to-School Sales

Check to see when your favorite retailers will be hosting back-to-school sales — and be sure not to miss out on these dates.

“Big box, clothing and office supply retailers — not to mention Amazon — all boast back-to-school sales throughout the summer, especially in July and August,” said Katie Roberts, editor at DealNews.com. “You could miss out on some serious discounts by not shopping the sales. During these events, we tend to see school supplies go for less than $1, laptops that are hundreds of dollars off and kids’ clothing at up to 65% off.”

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Buying Things That Aren’t on the School Shopping List

“Try to stick to the items on the supply lists you get from your child’s school — there’s a reason those products made the list and others didn’t,” Roberts said.

“You and your child may be drawn in by the dazzling array of school supplies at some retailers, but you’ll just be wasting money if you purchase items your child isn’t going to need in the classroom.”

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Using the Wrong Credit Card

“You could miss out on valuable rewards if you aren’t paying attention to which credit card will give you the most cash back or points for your back-to-school purchases,” said budgeting expert Andrea Woroch.

“Review your credit card reward offers to see which one will earn you more back based on the type of purchase or retailer, and don’t overlook potential bonus reward offers while you’re looking.”

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Throwing Out Your Receipts

“Many retailers require a receipt if you need to make a return, exchange or to get a price adjustment, or to file a claim if an item breaks within the warranty period, so don’t toss them or you could be out money,” Woroch said. “Better yet, request an emailed copy when available.”

You may also be able to use your receipts to get extra cash back using apps like Fetch Rewards.

“Just take pictures of your receipts using the Fetch Rewards app to earn points that go towards free gift cards to stores like Amazon, Target or Walmart,” Woroch said. “You can then use these free gift cards to help pay for the remaining supplies on your back-to-school list.”

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Not Using Store Coupons

Don’t ignore all the back-to-school coupons you’ll find in your email inbox during this time.

“Many retailers send exclusive deals to their email subscribers, but cluttered inboxes can make it hard to find these deals and miss out on big savings,” Woroch said. “Download a mail organizing app, like Edison Mail, which aggregates all your store coupons in one place under the ‘Deals’ section to help you quickly find and match coupons when shopping online.”

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