Secrets to Saving Big on Back-to-School Shopping

Ten Back-to-School Shopping Tips to Save You Money

August 8, 2019
Joel ChristophersenBy Joel Christophersen
Vice President of Retail Banking 

In honor of the first day of school being right around the corner, we thought we’d start off this blog with a pop quiz: How much, on average, do parents spend in back-to-school shopping?

A.    $300
B.    $500
C.    $700

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, if you answered “C” you’d be right on the money. That's a hefty chunk of change!

How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping 

Gearing up for another year of learning can get expensive quickly. The good news is, we came up with a bunch of back-to-school savings tips to help you stretch your budget:

1. Save Before You Buy

Before you buy anything, take stock of what you have. This means looking at clothes that still fit, shoes in good shape, coats that could weather another season — and of course, hand-me-downs from one sibling to the next.

2. Host a “Back-to-School” Bash

Grab a bunch of your parents from the neighborhood and host an annual clothes swap, especially if your friends and neighbors have kids of the same gender but opposite ages. You can make a whole night of it — drinks, food, music, etc. It’s fun, plus it’s a great way to bring the neighborhood together to celebrate the end of summer!

3. Stock Up at the Supermarket

You might not have thought about buying basic supplies like pencils and paper during your weekly trip to the supermarket. But oftentimes, these are available at grocery stores for a reasonable price. Added bonus: you’ll save time and money by buying groceries and school supplies on the same trip. You might also think about cashing in on your rewards at places like Walgreens or other pharmacies with loyalty programs that you don't use all that often.

4. Don't Forget About the Dollar Store

Sometimes it pays to check out your local dollar store. You'd be surprised at the different school supplies — markers, pencil boxes, glue and even calculators — that you can find available for only a buck. 

5. Shopping Online? Use “Honey” or Another Discount App

If you plan to do most of your back-to-school purchasing online, download a browser extension like Honey to guarantee you get the best deal possible. How does Honey work? When you’re checking out online, the plug-in works in the background, scanning thousands of the Internet’s best discount and promo codes and applying them to your cart automatically, before you click “Buy.”

6. Shopping in Person? Use the Amazon App

In the store, having your trusty Amazon App up on your phone can save you serious money. Just cross-reference every product you find with an option on Amazon, and pull the trigger on whichever one is cheaper. Or, march on up to customer service and request a price match. Speaking of which ...

7. Remember: Price Matching is Your Friend

Most stores practice forms of price-matching that the public doesn’t know about (or at least forgets). To save you the trouble, we compiled a list of good places to go back-to-school shopping and their price matching policies:

  • Kohl’s: Will match any competitor in store (although they won’t match online prices).
  • Target: Will match any items listed at, in local competitor print ads, or with select online competitors (see Target’s list here).
  • Wal-MartWill match lower prices from any brick-and-mortar store and most online retailers (see Wal-Mart's list here). 
  • JCPenney: Promises that “if you find a lower current advertised price on an identical item within 14 days after purchase at a competitor, just bring the ad to a JCPenney store and we’ll beat that price by 5%.” (Although some products like Sephora are excluded. Sorry, ladies). 

For price matching, keep in mind most policies are limited to one item per customer per day. 

8. Stick to the List

Most teachers hand out a supply list at the start of a new school year — and that list is daunting enough. Don’t waste time and money on things that aren’t on it. Trust the teachers. They've spent a lot of time and effort compiling everything your child(ren) will need. If you can't find your list, check out this handy school supplies list lookup tool from Office Depot.

9. Stick to the Budget

This is the hard part, especially with so many options, but sticking to a set budget helps eliminate unnecessary or impulsive purchases. Using actual cash instead of a credit card can be helpful (visit a convenient Security National Bank ATM location near your), or use an exclusive debit account for back-to-school shopping (establish a set amount per child based on their age and supply needs).

10. Gear Up On Tax-Free Weekend

This is really something to keep in mind for next year, since Iowa’s tax-free weekend already happened on Aug. 2-3 (it takes place the first weekend of August each year). Unfortunately, South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska do not have sales tax holidays, but if you live close to the Iowa border a quick shopping trip might be worth the drive.

The tax-free weekend is exactly what it sounds like: for any item of clothing and footwear under $100, you’ll be charged zero tax.  Even if you missed this year’s holiday, plenty of stores are holding “end-of-summer” sales. Be sure to hit those up.

And of course, use common sense when it comes to any sale or tax-free holidays. You’ll still want to compare prices, use coupons, and ultimately decide if that 6-to-7 percent off is actually a good deal. Good luck!


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