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Back-to-School Shopping: Ways to Save and Where to Splurge

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…and apparently it’s a most something else…

If the National Retail Federation is right, families will be spending a record amount on back to school shopping this year – with families of kids in elementary through high school spending an average o $848.90! 

Yikes, right? Since the NRF says families are spending the most they ever have on back-to-school shopping, let’s dive in on some ways you can SAVE that hard earn dollar of yours!

Take inventory of what you have before you head to the door.

Sometimes you don’t know what you have until you look! Maybe you have spare pens and pencils or extra boxes of crayons stashed away.

Same goes for school clothes and uniforms. Often you’ll find your child doesn’t NEED an all-new wardrobe and can wait til the fall sales. Maybe their backpack is still in great shape and ready for another go.

Give everything a good cleaning and see what can take your child into the next school year and make a list of what you need to you don’t add extras to the car that you don’t need.

Take advantage of Florida’s Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday

Florida’s Back to School Sales Tax Holiday is returning this year–Saturday, July 31 through Monday, August 9, 2021.

The sales tax holiday only applies to certain school supplies priced at $15 or less per item and certain clothing items, footwear and accessories that are $60 or less per item.

It also applies to the sale of certain personal computers and other electronic items you might need. You will not be taxed on the first $1,000 of the sales price of a personal computer, for example.

If you’re wondering if the sales tax holiday makes a difference as an individual shopper, consider this. When we did a test run on back to school shopping this week –if we waited until the start of the Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday, we would have saved $3.41 which is essentially SIX, 24-pks of Crayola crayons (sale priced at 50 cents each). So yes, it does make a difference when we’re talking about school supplies. 

Price compare back-to-school supplies.

The internet makes it easy to quickly price compare, but we wanted to go in-person for that test run we just talked about to see how much of a difference there really is in the sale prices we’re seeing right now.

So, we headed to big box retailers like Target and Walmart ahead of the sales tax holiday to compare sale prices on back to school supplies like crayons, pencils, scissors, glue sticks and more.

Here’s what we found…there really isn’t a significant price difference between these two stores or even other stores for that matter if you’re buying smaller items like crayons, pencils, pens, notebooks and so on.

The retailers seem to be pretty competitive in pricing and if there is a price difference, it’s a few cents on most items. So, shop where you typically shop to save precious time. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t save more if you shop around, it all depends on what your schedule looks like. Again–thank goodness for the World Wide Web!

Where you’ll see a noticeable difference in price between retailers is on bigger items like backpacks, clothing, shoes, and electronics. This is where google will become your best friend. Google what you want to buy and see if it pops up at a better price on Google Shopping. Amazon is another place to check, but not always the best place to save.

If you’d rather avoid all of that driving around and shopping in-person at the stores, the sales tax break also applies to qualifying items purchased online during the sales tax holiday window.

You can also utilize some cool apps to help find the best deals! Here are some fan favorites:

  • ShopSavvy QR code Reader and Scanner: This app allows you to quick scan a barcode or QR code to get the best prices. iOS | Android
  • Flipp Weekly Shopping: This is the app to download to quickly explore all of the weekly ads in one place which is a must if you are on the hunt for the best sales. iOS | Android

Since time IS money…buy school supplies online.

As we just mentioned, you can order all of the school supplies your child needs online for delivery or pick up OR let the stores shop for you with the list provided by your child’s school.

Target has a School List Assist program which will ship your child’s back to school supplies right to your door based on school, grade and even teacher in some cases. Walmart has a similar program called Back to School Supply List.

Another bonus of online shopping is it prevents you from buying the extra things you don’t need. Goodbye impulse buying!

We’ll squeeze in one more way to save online–join a cash back site like Rakuten since you’ll be shopping online anyway. May as well get money back on cash you’re spending anyway.

Splurge on some back-to-school supplies, but not all.

Sometimes it’s worth spending the extra cents and bucks on quality items like a durable backpack. If well taken care of, it can last your child for years! Our kid went from kindergarten through 2nd grade with the same backpack and could have gone another year with it, but he wants an upgrade for this year. Womp, womp.

Pencils are another item worth the splurge which may be up for debate since you’ll find pencils on SAVE and SPLURGE lists across the internet. In our opinion and teachers we’ve talked to, the splurge is worth it on pencils and crayons because they last longer and don’t break as easily.

So, toss in the Ticonderoga #2 pencils and Crayola crayons in the shopping cart. They’re on sale right now anyway, so you’ll save a bit if you buy now.

Other items worth the splurge: a good lunch box, spill-proof water bottles for little ones like Thermos, and electronics. You can often find deals on refurbished computers too, so shop around.

Shop the discount stores for back to school supplies.

Don’t discount the discount stores like the Dollar Tree for school supplies and TJ Maxx and Marshalls for clothes. Outlet malls are another good option for name brand items. While all of the above do offer some good deals, keep in mind they’re not always the best deal. You might find a better sale price elsewhere.

As we mentioned, buying refurbished electronics from a trusted retailer is another great way to save. 

Don’t forget to donate to help local children in need.

There are 150,000+ school children in Hillsborough County alone from low income households that are struggling to send their child back-to-school with the items they need. Pick up a few extra items while back-to-school shopping and donate them to your child’s school, teacher, or local non-profit.

The YMCA and Hillsborough Education Fund are teaming up to collect back-to-school supplies this year with collection sites at YMCA’s throughout Tampa Bay. You can see the list of items needed and where to donate here.

Another cool way to help a local teacher directly is through the Adopt a Teacher Facebook groups. Here are the local links:

Adopt a Hillsborough Teacher

Adopt a Pasco County Teacher 

Adopt a Pinellas Teacher

What to stock up on.

Back-to-School sales offer up some great deals on items that might get a lot of use in your house like name brand crayons and markers. We’re seeing Crayola markers priced at .97 cents to .99 cents at stores around town right now which are usually about $2.39. A 24-pack box of Crayola crayons are going for .50 cents right now which would typically cost you $1.39. (*back to school sale pricing at Target and Walmart)

Glue and glue sticks are priced pretty good right now. Colored pencils are also a great deal. It’s a win if you have a little artist in the house or want to stockpile for the holidays.

Since it takes a village…

We can’t do this on our own. It takes a village! If you have a great idea on ways to save you think other families will love, let us know! Share your ideas with us at:

Start shopping around before you head out the door!

Here are a few sites to peruse so you can get a general idea of what each store has for back-to-school sales:

Happy shopping, everyone!


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