Be Smart and Save Money: 5 Tips for Back to School Shopping

First and foremost, when you’re shopping for back to school supplies, make sure you know what you have. Go through your kids’ rooms and take inventory of their clothing and any supplies they might have laying around. Clean out old backpacks and school bags. Take stock of supplies in your home office, in your kitchen drawers, in the hall closet. This way, you won’t continue to buy a protractor every year when you have a forgotten pile of them tucked away somewhere in your house.

Once you have a list of what you already have, you’ll be more focused on what you need. Using your inventory list, create a new list of items your kids absolutely need for the upcoming school year. Make copies of your finalized need list and give them to everyone in your family. If you and your family are tech-savvy, consider creating a shared google doc, or something of the like, so that you and your children can edit it together. This way, there should be no confusion on what’s been purchased and what you still need to buy.

Start buying early and plan your time

Planning ahead is really the best way to save money on back to school shopping. If you start looking at supplies and prices early, you’ll be better equipped to recognize and take advantage of the best sale prices.

Also, if you make a plan ahead of time, deciding which stores you and your kids will need to visit to get their supplies, you can track those stores easily by subscribing to their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. Often, stores will post reminders of sales or even surprise offers to their subscribers. Following these stores early and often will help you get the most for your money.

Another benefit to starting your shopping early is the option of shopping online. Many times, you can find great deals shopping on Amazon, Overstock, even eBay or Craigslist. And, some stores offer online specific sales with better deals than you can find in store. So, don’t wait until the last week of summer to scramble and get your kids their supplies! Give yourself time to browse the internet too, and leave plenty of time for the great deals you find to be shipped to you.

Shop Tax Free Weekend and End of Summer Sales (but beware…)

Shopping on tax free weekend and during end of summer sales can be great ways to save money on back to school supplies. Parents should absolutely be aware of when tax free shopping occurs, and they should keep track of when their (and their kids’) favorite stores hold their end of summer sales.

However, it’s also a good idea to be critical of these seemingly fabulous sales. I worked at Old Navy throughout my high school and college years, so I have firsthand knowledge of some of the sneakier sides to summer sales. For example, sometimes stores will mark their prices up to full value during tax-free weekends, and other stores will actually run better sales before and after the big advertised “summer sale.” So be wary of the sales you see, and take the extra time to determine whether you’re getting the best deal. Don’t be fooled by the “tax-free” excitement of saving 7% on a shirt that costs $25 when it will be 50% off during next week’s less advertised sale.

Avoid unnecessaries and compromise with your kids

Fancy pencil pouches? Your kid has a backpack… that’s a pencil pouch right there. Cute, trendy, or graphic covered binders that cost 4x the amount of a regular, plain, binder? Who needs it? Chances are, your kid is going to either stuff some papers in there to keep for later, draw on it with markers or pens, or never take it out of his/her locker. Cutting down on the unnecessary items your kid wants but doesn’t need is a surefire way to save money.

But, if your son really wants the expensive backpack with a built in organizer, a hard-case pocket for his laptop, and a cool design on the front, compromise with him. If your daughter will not stop asking for the Vera Wang lunch bag she saw online the other day, compromise with her. Strike up a deal that they have to pay the difference between the backpack or lunch bag you want to buy for them and the one they want. They could cover this difference using saved up holiday money, allowance money, or by doing extra chores.

Be wary of teacher required lists

This last tip is a little variable, but here’s a secret from someone who’s taught high school for the past 5 years: Take our “required” school supply lists with a grain of salt. Again, this is the experience of just one teacher, but honestly, sometimes we don’t even know what our students will need for the entire year. My best advice is to buy the basics: pens, pencils, paper. Your child will always need something to write with and something to write on, but hold off on any excess- colored pencils, glue sticks, a binder for each class, rulers, etc.- until you know exactly what they’ll be using on a day-to-day basis

 

Back-to-School Shopping with Greenlight

There are tons of guides out there with tips on how to squeeze the most out of your back-to-school budgets. 

In this post, we talk about how to bring your kids along for the back-to-school shopping ride. In fact, we think it could be time to put them in the driver’s seat — with some adult supervision, of course — to teach them first-hand about trade-off decisions.

Start with a back-to-school budget.

Put that budget in your child’s Spend Anywhere account within the Greenlight app before you start shopping. When the child themselves makes the purchases on their Greenlight card, they will feel more responsible for how the funds are spent. 

Deloitte’s 2019 Back-to-School Survey reported the average family will spend $519 per child on supplies, electronics, apparel and accessories for the new school year. Start there, or with a budget your family is comfortable with.

Back-to-school budget in child's Greenlight account.

Attack the school supplies list.

  1. Get your 2019-20 supplies and clothes list in a spreadsheet. (Find one of our favorites here.)
  2. Have your kids take inventory of what they already have and what they need for next year. Spreading out items on the kitchen table or bed can spark conversations on what’s essential to purchase new this year versus what’s nice to have.
  3. Make a plan. We recommend starting with school supplies before going into the latest clothes and sneakers.

Shopping online?

Tons of experts have taken the hard work out of bargain hunting. Goodhousekeeping, U.S. News & World Report and The Krazy Coupon Lady and have already published their best deals guides to the 2019 back-to-school shopping seasons. Have your kids review these guides and prioritize their most important items.

Sit with your kids and shop around online for name-brand items, and see if you can find them at a lower cost across Amazon, Walmart.com or other budget sites. You can mark the best prices on your spreadsheet.

Pro tip: Target started School List Assist in 2017. Just search for your school and Target collects all your supplies in an online shopping cart. Do your research with your child to make sure you’re finding the best deals. 

Ready to brave the stores?

The budget can be made or broken in the crowded aisles of Walmart, Target, The Dollar Store or your local shops. To avoid the crowds, we recommend early in the morning or later in the afternoon during the week.

Bring your spreadsheet with you and know how much is left on your list. 

Have your tech-savvy kids download Shop Savvy. It’s a Greenlight fan favorite. While you’re at the store, scan barcodes to see if you’re getting the best deal around, and mark the best deals off the list as you find them.

Have your kids handle checkout. While they use their Greenlight, they’ll feel more ownership of the items they purchased. And hopefully they’ll take better care of their things now that they’ve been in charge of their budget.

Balance your budget before apparel shopping.

Reconcile your budget in the spreadsheet before going shopping for clothes, so your kids know how much they can spend.

Make deals with them or trade-offs for things that may fall out of budget. Have them prioritize what’s most important for now — what do they need now, and what can wait until later in the school year?

Let us know how your shopping goes!

Post photos of your kids on social media using #mygreenlight.

Haven’t joined Greenlight yet?

Get started by signing your family up today.

Greenlight’s Guide to Chores

Julie Lythcott-Haimes, author of How to Raise an Adult, gave a TED Talk in 2015 about setting the right priorities for your kids. She quoted the Harvard Grant Study (only the longest longitudinal study ever conducted) which concluded “professional success in life comes from having done chores as a kid.” 

We think chores are important too, which is why we launched a set of chores features in the Greenlight app in February of this year. Since then, we’ve actually had Greenlight families tell us that their kids have asked for MORE chores after instituting a routine.

“I have noticed that my kids volunteer to do more chores without asking since I have signed them up about a month ago. They enjoy tracking their spending, and more often think before they spend unlike with cash.”

When is the right time to start chores?

All families are different, and all kids are different. A chores routine can start as early as “getting clothes to the laundry basket” in preschool years. 

Back-to-school season is a great time to talk about getting back into routines, and asking your kids for input on what tasks need to be done. Another great time is birthdays, recognizing that with age comes new responsibilities.

Which chores do I choose?

Of all Greenlight families, the five most popular chores are:

Greenlight's top 5 most popular chores: 1. Clean your bedroom. 2)

Clean your bedroom is the most popular chore for all ages. Read is popular for younger kids, under the age of 10. Take out the trash heats up for children over 12 years of age. And wash the dishes is most popular around 15-17. 

Some other personal favorites from the editor: pick up after yourself, scoop the dog poop and be nice to your brother. “No cussing” has also been a fan favorite around the Greenlight office. A special shout out to the parents writing their chores in ALL CAPS. But we digress…

On average, Greenlight families institute 4.41 chores per child, and recurring chores are by far more popular than one-time. 

Here’s a helpful guide from the moms of Sunshine and Hurricanes with kid-friendly chores from preschool through 10 years of age.

Do I pay my kids for chores?

A recent T. Rowe Price survey on parents, kids and money saw that 51% of parents give their kids allowance, but the kids have to earn it. 

Ron Lieber, author of Greenlight staff favorite The Opposite of Spoiled, advises not to give allowances in exchange for chores. He says, “Allowances ought to stand on its own, not as a wage but as a teaching tool.” 

Chores teach accountability and responsibility. Allowances tangibly teach the practices of budgeting and saving. (More on allowances over the coming weeks.)

There are experts and Greenlight families, on both sides of the fence of this debate. We encourage each family to make decisions based on what will work best for them.

  • You may institute a chore schedule that includes standard tasks (like cleaning up bedrooms, doing laundry or walking the dog), and incentivizes more high-value tasks with monetary rewards on a less-frequent basis. 
  • You might consider an allowance to be regular payment for jobs well done. If the clothes are piled up on the desk instead of on the floor, little Sophia’s room still isn’t “clean” to mom’s golden standard.
  • You can tie chore completion to allowances. If the trash isn’t taken out, floor isn’t vacuumed and the dog poop isn’t scooped, you won’t get your allowance this week.

Whatever your chore routine, Greenlight can help you stick to it

With features like flexible scheduling and linking chore completion to allowance, Greenlight has helped thousands of families implement a routine.


Set chores that repeat weekly, or multiple times a week.

Greenlight chores scheduler

Or set one-time chores for bigger tasks like spring cleaning, babysitting or mowing the lawn.

Setting up a one-time chore.

Kids review and check off their chores as complete.

Child checks off chores when complete.

Review the chore schedule and manage scheduled payouts.

Parent reviews all chores in one view within the Greenlight app.

Don’t have Greenlight yet?

Get started by signing your family up today.