Back to School without Breaking the Bank!


Last year, the

Last year, the National Retail Federation reported that families were spending nearly $700 per child for back to school costs (roughly $400 for clothing and shoes, $100 for supplies and nearly $200 for electronics).  You and I knew that was crazy.  Well, crazy is stepping up its game this year, because the NRF is estimating spending to increase by another five percent this fall, reaching an overall $74.9 billion total for back-to-school costs!  However, buried within the report I discovered some fabulously frugal underlying messages that had me realize all was not lost.  Rest assured and read on, we can get the kids back to school stuffed with every stylish little accessory they need, and not break the bank. Photo:


Rule #1 – Go Generic!  According to the report, 30+ percent of shoppers will buy more generic products due to the state of the economy.  Brilliant move, folks – not only are generic products (pens, pencils, notebooks, calculators, socks and hundreds of other things.) often just as good as the pricier, more expensively advertised name brands, they’ll work just as well and last just as long.  


When it comes to the clothes, create the best of both worlds when you get the designer names you love, but simply pay generic prices (easily 70-90% less), by buying it on Craigslist.  You’ll have it done in a fraction of the time, feel free to haggle on price (feels so good!), and pick a mutually convenient public place during daylight to make the transaction. Voila! Everyone’s a winner. I’ve done it dozens of times with no trouble whatsoever, and I’ve connected with too many people coast-to-coast who have done it successfully for years as well. Be sure to stop by your local dollar stores as well, their generic (and often brand name!) products can be had for far less than what you’d pay down the street.


Rule #2 – Electronics for Less!  Also on the report, I saw that 58% of shoppers plan to buy iPads, laptops and other electronics for back to school.  I can respect that – sophisticated electronics are a necessary (and time saving) part of any older student’s inventory these days.  That being said, even college kids don’t require the latest model to be successful. Shop around for last year’s electronic models at huge discounts, or (dare I suggest it) shop on Craigslist or eBay for the model that had crowds rushing the electronics store two short years ago.  I’ve spoken with parents of today’s college-bound kids who used those exact strategies, and who enjoyed delicious 60-80+% discounts compared to what you’d pay retail for this morning’s latest model.


Rule #3 – Get Online!  My favorite statistic on the report – four in 10 back to school shoppers are shopping online. This so works. Clothes, shoes, supplies, electronics – whatever it is that you’re looking for, chances are excellent that someone is selling it online for a fraction of retail, and that the prices you can get it for are significantly less than what you’d pay in the store (even when you include shipping costs). Why bother driving, parking, working thru the crowds, just to overpay for school supplies?  Instead, take an evening online after the kids go to bed, do your shopping in a fraction of the time, and have it delivered right to your door, for a fraction of retail.


If there’s one thing we learn year after year, it’s that prices may go up each back-to-school season, but with every passing year we seem to get just a few more fabulously effective ways to counteract it.  Frugal On!


Kristen Hagopian is a Syndicated Radio Talk Show Host, Columnist & Author of Brilliant Frugal Living.  She co-hosts WCHE 1520’s Morning Show, and “The Kristen Hagopian Show” airs Tuesdays at 4P.  She resides in Chester County with her family.  You can find her online at


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