Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Time for back-to-school shopping -- really

It's only June, but some parents are already buying. Here's why that's smart.

By Donna_Freedman Jun 22, 2012 3:04PM

Image: Boy hiding eyes (© Ned Frisk Photography/Corbis)We'll spend more on back-to-school purchases this year, but we'll take our sweet time doing so, according to a new survey from PriceGrabber.

Of the 1,509 individuals surveyed, 46% said they planned to fork over more dollars than in 2011, and 55% said they'd buy throughout the summer. In fact, some of them are already shopping: 17% indicated they'd start looking in June.


Starting now doesn't necessarily mean buying now. It means positioning yourself for great prices.

How great?

Maybe pretty great. Last year one acquaintance paid just $35 for three pairs of children's jeans, six shirts and two sweat shirts. They were new, not used.

The lower the prices, the more likely you can pay cash as you go, versus charging hundreds of dollars' worth of stuff in one late-August race through the mall. Get started soon, and you'll have plenty of time to:

1. Set price alerts.
Not seeing the bargains you want? Say what you want to pay on cost-comparison sites like PriceGrabber, PricePlease and Nextag. You'll get an email when your price point is reached.

2. Look for discount codes.
Percentage-off and free-shipping codes abound at sites like CouponTradeRetailMeNot and


3. Shop clearance. That's the virtual clearance rack as well as the sales tables in brick-and-mortar stores. Online shoppers can combine bargain-basement prices with the online codes noted above. If you live in a mild climate, some summer clearance items can be worn this fall; buy some a size or two up for next spring. (Post continues after video.)

4. Shop secondhand. It's prime yard sale season, so shop with an eye toward September. A couple of weekends ago I spied seemingly unworn children's clothes, including jackets and coats. Thrift stores are another good bet. Note: I am not suggesting you send your kids to school in faded, stained or other subpar items. But very nice stuff gets sold for a song.

5. Swap online.
Sites such as Swapmamas, thredUP and Zwaggle let parents all around the country trade used (but still good) clothing and other items.

6. Swap locally. Relatives or friends, one-on-one or small gatherings -- trading outgrown items is a huge money saver.

7. Look for free stuff.
You never know what's going to show up on The Freecycle Network, including children's clothing.

8. Use the state sales tax holiday.
The next wave of no-sales-tax days starts in early July. By then you'll know what you do (and don't) need.

When will you start your back-to-school shopping? Any tips to share?

More on MSN Money:

Jun 23, 2012 5:08PM

pencils, pens and writing pads can often be found at yard sales for free.

if you know an office will be closing down you could always ask for unwanted pens or paper.

collect empty ink cartridges and join the rewards program at staples or office max,  use the rewards towards purchase more supplies, couple the rewards with discount codes (found on line).


Places like kohls are constantly having sales and have coupons.  the coupons are always good on the clearence rack, so look at those racks first before looking at full price stuff.


resale and thrift stores always have clothes that are brand new with the tags still attached.

Jun 22, 2012 5:23PM
Sadly...DD2 broke the bad news to more "back to school shopping" for me. She is a college gal now and services are no longer required. So for the first time in 25 years I'll be a spectator during "back to school" season...
Jul 3, 2012 5:40PM
Checking clearence is a great idea...t shirts are starting to get marked down, so pair them up with solid colored long sleeved shrits so the kids ccan still have their Superhero or hello kitty shirts, but with a different look each time worn. Also, check the shoes right now...we went to Target today and they had tons of kids tennis shoes 50% off, we had planned to wait until fall to get our little guy some, but went ahead and got them now. And it's awesome, cause if, like last year, the first pair falls apart (and it shouldn't have!! We buy him good shoes!! GRRR) then it's not as big of a deal to replace them.
Jun 24, 2012 11:00PM
Seasonal kids consignment sales are a HUGE HUGE trend,  especially in the South. It's like a consignment store, but for just a weekend... think thousands and thousands of items all in one spot, all in one weekend!!!  You can find sales at
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.