Back-to-School Buying Guide: 5 Hacks to Cutting Down on Costs

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Updated on Thursday, August 6, 2015

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School season is just around the corner, and many parents are already dreading the cost of supplies, equipment, and even wardrobes for their little ones. The all-mighty layaway has been a time-tested method to help parents space out their costs over time, but it may be able to get phased out. With the age of Pinterest and a new interest in DIY comes the potential for parents to cut out on some of the frivolous costs associated with back-to-school supplies. Sure, there are some items that simply cannot be substituted, but parents with a knack for hacks can find ways to cut out some of the smaller costs really add up on your back-to-school supply list.

When you consider the overall cost of purchasing back-to-school items for your little one, have you ever stopped to think about the actual total that you’ll end up dishing out? Within the first 30 days of your child going back to school, could be spending $500 to $1,000 on anything from clothes and books to notebooks and pens. There are ways to ensure that you’re spending as little as possible on these items by shopping early, taking advantage of sales year-round, and keeping an eye on ‘tax-free’ shopping weeks. But you might be able to handle a back-to-school list without needing to buy much outside the home.

Consider a few of these DIY hacks before splurging on expensive brand name products:

1. Paper Bag Book Cover

This one has been around for years, and many parents today will recognize this hack from their own childhood! While book covers may only cost a few dollars each, using paper bags from your local grocer is free of cost (assuming your local grocery store offers them). It just takes a little extra time and TLC to create a paper bag cover to fit any of your school textbooks, and the best part is that your kids are able to decorate their own covers since they’re easily disposable and replaceable. Here’s the gist:

1. Gather your items:

Paper Bag(s)
Your child’s textbook

2. Remove handles from your paper bag, should it include these, and cut your bag so that the paper lays in one flat piece. You may have to cut the bottom of the bag off so that you’re working with only the flattened sides of the bag.

3. Place your book on the paper with the printed side of the bag facing in (so that only the blank side of the paper faces outwards). Fold the edges of the paper at the top and bottom of your book and mark these folds with a pen so that when you remove the book, you’re able to see where to fold the top and bottom of the paper.

4. Fold top and bottom flaps down, and replace the book. Replace the book and note that the top and bottom edges of the book now lie flush with the top and bottom edges of your paper bag.

5. Wrap the paper bag around the book, folding the flaps at each cover’s end over the cover and into the front and back of the book.

6. Tape the folded edges at the front and back covers of the book in order to keep the cover secured to your book. Make sure to not tape onto the book directly but rather tape from the folded flap inside the cover over the top and to the outside paper covering.

Your book cover is now ready for school use! For organizational purposes, be sure to write the name of the textbook on the paper covering at the spine and on the front and back. Then, the rest of the decoration can be left for your child. Follow this easy video tutorial here if you’re looking for a quick visual on how to create this easy back-to-school hack.

2. Magnetic Locker Pencil Holder

Even in the age of technology, kids still need pens and pencils in most schools. Many times, we end up throwing these writing utensils in our backpacks or see them collecting at the bottoms of our lockers in a disorganized heap. Pen and pencil cases are available at the stores ranging from a few dollars to well over $10 each, making them an annoyingly costly extra purchase for parents.

For students old enough to have lockers, keeping these items within reach and in a visible place within their locker is an easy reminder to take their pencils with them to class. A magnetic locker pencil holder can be easily created at home without having to purchase a specialty magnetic holder at your local supply store.

For this DIY project, you’ll use an empty can from your kitchen pantry and some crafting supplies for decoration to spruce it up. Glue magnets to the back of the can to ensure easy magnetic installation to the inside of the locker door. Your magnets (which cost a few cents a piece) will be your only real investment for this project, as you can use any crafting supplies sitting around your house and will be using cans meant for the recycling bin at home!
Check out Crafts by Amanda for a quick tutorial with pictures on how to make a DIY magnetic pencil locker holder.

3. Reusable Lunch Boxes and Bento Boxes

Making lunch at home is a great way to ensure your kids get the nutrition they need with varieties of foods they love, but you may dislike constantly spending money on expendable items like brown bags or Ziploc baggies. Or just dislike the waste. These small purchases add up over the course of a school year, nicking away at your budget slowly but surely.

When shopping for school supplies, point your child in the direction of insulated lunch boxes and bento boxes! Reusable lunch boxes come in a variety of fun designs and can keep food fresh during the morning hours, ensuring items are kept at consistent temperatures until lunchtime rolls around. Similarly, bento boxes are a great way to nix the Ziplocs in lieu of fun-sized shapes that can help parents to quickly portion out parts of each meal.

4. Use Trading Websites for Discounted, Trendy Clothes

Internet-savvy parents can use their computer time to do a little shopping – and we don’t mean perusing the retail prices at traditional online sites. New sites like Tradesy are a great way to purchase clothing for your kids that are modern and stylish without having to break the bank, and you can just as easily sell old items to help fund your new purchases! A great task for teenage kids to even do themselves.

Other sites to consider are Online Yard Sale and Resale websites, which are typically pertinent to certain regions, counties, or areas. Simply log onto your Facebook and type in Yard Sale or Resale in your search bar along with your general area (consider your county, city, or town residence) to see whether or not your area has these groups. People will post pictures of items they have available, and you can negotiate a price and meet in a public lot in your area to exchange the goods!

5. Shop Sale Days!

Finally, while many thrifty parents are already acutely aware of sale days and tax-free weeks, some forget the potential of waiting until just after the first days or week of school to shop sale racks. In fact, retailers count on the fact that parents are scrambling to supply their kids with a full season’s worth of clothing before school starts, but many of the best deals are truly reserved for right after the beginning of school.

Make it a fun way for your child to get a feel for what the latest fashions are while capitalizing on sales after the first day. Celebrate their first week of school with a weekend trip to the clothing shops to save you money and outfit your kid for the school year.

DIY school supplies are more than just about saving money – they’re fun too!

It’s usually the small costs that chip away at the bigger budget for parents when buying back-to-school supplies for their kids. A few dollars here and a few dollars there add up over time, making for a bigger ticket at the checkout line than you originally intended. Cut down on some of these costs by spending some craft time at home this summer preparing for the school season. Crafting not only helps to reduce these small costs, but it’s also a great way to get your kids involved in their own school preparations while having fun! At the same time, they’re able to create one-of-a-kind supplies to help showcase their style and show off their personalities.