Back-to-school expenses can add up fast. In fact, a recent survey from the National Retail Federation shows that the average household expects to spend over $650 on back-to-school supplies each year. Ouch! That amount can be a massive blow to the budget. While you can’t send kids off to school without the supplies they need, for certain items, you can shop smart and buy used. (See also: 4 Effortless Ways to Save on Back-to-School Shopping)
1. Refurbished tech toys
Having the right technology is no longer optional for students. Used computers, tablets, phones, and accessories can provide the same technological capability for a much smaller price tag. To save on tech without sacrificing quality, look for factory-refurbished items for sale. Some manufacturers (such as Apple) have factory-refurbished items for sale. Factory-refurbished items from the manufacturer have generally been examined and repaired as needed by a technician so that they are in good working order; in fact, they often come with a limited warranty.
You can also shop on various online outlets, such as NewEgg or Amazon. If ordering online isn’t for you, you can search for local shops that sell refurbished electronics; some major electronics chains, such as Best Buy, also sell refurbished equipment in-store.
2. Textbooks and other books
Checking off items on the booklist for every student in your household can get costly. Used books are a great way to go, as they last for years with minimal care.
For used textbooks, start with the BookFinder service. Simply enter the textbook information (title and author) and BookFinder will compile a list of purchasing options from online vendors. It’s the fastest way I’ve found to find and compare prices on used textbooks. For other used books, from grade-school reading levels to business books and biographies, check out used-book sites online such as AbeBooks, ThriftBooks, or Powell’s. Even better, of course, is to visit your local bookstore and give them all the support you can. Amazon is great for used books, as well.
Another option is to browse social media (Facebook in particular) for used book groups. Many of the used-book groups are specialized. For example, you can search for sci-fi, home-school curriculum, young adult fiction, and more, and find a book group that’s selling the books you need. I’ve used these for enormous savings when buying books for my kids (and for myself, too). (See also: 6 Genius Ways to Stock Up on School Supplies)
Need uniforms? No problem. Spend a weekend hitting garage sales in your area. You’ll often be able to score uniform basics from local kids a grade or two ahead of yours. Thrift stores are another good option; during back-to-school season, they’ll often gather and display uniform basics for easy shopping.
There are also some online options for used school uniforms, such as School Uniform Resale. It’s also worth checking in with your school: many schools that require uniforms buy back gently used pieces and resell them for discounted prices.
4. Sports equipment
Sports gear can be one of the biggest back-to-school expenses you’ll face. Luckily, you can often find another parent ready to shed the pads, cleats, and other gear from their child’s prior season and pass it on to you at a very reduced cost. If you’re not a regular garage sale shopper, now’s the time to start. Read the local papers and online classified sites for local garage sale ads, note the ones that are offering children’s sports items, and spend the weekend scouting for savings.
You can also shop for used sports gear at stores like Play It Again Sports, although you’ll pay more here than you will at your neighbor’s garage sale. And don’t underestimate the power of asking your social network, as well. If you make a list of what you need and start asking your friends and followers, you might find some stellar deals.
5. Musical equipment
Whether you need to purchase a violin or drum set, there’s no reason to pay the price for brand-new instruments. Musical equipment retains its value with good care, and will sound just as good. Well, that may not be exactly true. It will sound as good as your kid makes it sound. (On that note, high-quality used headphones can be an excellent purchase, as well.)
Start by looking up local music supply stores, and find out if they sell used instruments. You can often get information and a quote over the phone and save yourself a trip to the store. Or, if they have the instrument you need at the right price, you can ask them to hold it for you. (Expect to pay a deposit.)
6. Basic supplies
No, we’re not talking about dried-up, secondhand markers. Gross. Some things need to be purchased brand-new, and markers go on that list. However, from backpacks to lunch bags to staplers, there are plenty of smaller supplies that last.
Consider both what your kids need at school and what you might need for a homework station at home. For older students, it’ll be study supplies and dorm room essentials. Make a list, then shop at home, first! How many bottles of glue, rolls of tape, and pencils are hidden in your desk, console, or under the couch?
Once you’ve exhausted all at-home possibilities, visit thrift stores and garage sales. You’ll be able to stock up on many household supplies for the dorm room in no time. There’s almost always a good selection of backpacks and lunch bags at consignment and thrift stores. Also, look for high-quality, durable, commercial office supplies. They may not be as sparkly, but they’ll certainly cost less.