How to Save Big on Back-to-School Shopping

Back-to-School Shopping Guide: Ten Secrets to Saving Big

August 4, 2023
Jennifer PenningsBy Jennifer Pennings
Northside Branch Manager

Back-to-school season always arrives faster than we expect, doesn’t it?

Hard to believe, but it's already time to start stocking up on school supplies, clothing, and everything else on your student's back-to-school list. We definitely encourage shopping during Iowa’s tax-free weekend — which is Aug. 4-5 this year — but we've also got some other back-to-school sales and shopping hacks to save you money:

1) Find a friend for discounts and supply swaps.

Group of School Children with new supplies

Purchasing school supplies can really add up, but shopping with friends can ease some of the burden. If your child’s supply needs align with theirs, you can purchase items in bulk, divide them between your group, and split the costs evenly across the board. Buying in larger volume often comes with reduced prices or BOGO (buy one get one free) offers. Host a get-together with your friends to split up the goods so that everyone leaves fully stocked without breaking the bank.

You could also maximize the savings by dividing up stores based on who has “insider access.” Wholesale retailers like Sam’s Club  and CostCo require membership. Meanwhile, Bed Bath and Beyond+, Office Depot’s OfficeMax Rewards  and Amazon Prime offer exclusive perks to members who pay an annual or monthly fee. Major retailers that offer free loyalty programs include Target Circle Rewards, NikePlus, Nordy Club Rewards and Kohl’s Yes2Rewards.

2) Subscribe to email and text lists (including local ones).

Father & Daughter Subscribe to Back-to-School Savings

When you visit a retailer’s website, you’re often prompted to join a communications list that alerts you to upcoming sales, sends you special offers and free shipping, gives you birthday rewards, and provides exclusive promo codes. This isn't limited to national retailers, either. Browse your local store websites like Bomgaars, which updates its bargains and specials webpage on a daily basis.

In addition to alerts, some retailers offer first-time sign-up offers, too:

  • Old Navy: Get 30% off your next purchase as a new email subscriber.
  • Macy’s:  Receive 25% off any order after signing up for email.
  • Bed Bath and Beyond: Receive a 0%-off coupon for any single item by signing up for their email and text lists.
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods: Receive 10% off any order with email sign-up, and an offer for $20 off $100 for Dick’s Text Alerts Program.
  • Converse: Get exclusive access to sales and promotions after signing up for their text alerts.

Note: Some of these links will take you directly to the discounts and promotions page. For others, scroll to the bottom of the website for information and direction.

3) Flex your price-match muscles.

School Shopping Mom Asking Clerk for Price Match

As you peruse the back-to-school aisles, have your phone at the ready to compare prices. Many retailers offer price-match guarantees, however each store’s price-match offer is a little bit different, so be sure to check the fine print before shopping.

4) Check out “Discount School Supply.”

Discount School Supply catalog cover

Teachers and parents alike can take advantage of major classroom savings at Discount School Supply. They offer learning tools and educational supplies for children as young as infants and as old as 12 years. Originally founded as a way to supply teachers, the company has expanded to include a comprehensive catalog of products that fit virtually every learning style and classroom environment.

5) Shop gently used and overstock clothing online.

Mom and Daughter shopping online for secondhand clothes

Kids grow out of their sizes in the blink of an eye, and constantly purchasing new items may not be financially prudent. Luckily, there’s a plethora of consignment clothing shops. Here’s a brief list:

Don’t forget about overstock stores, too, like Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls  and T.J. Maxx. They’re great places to stock up on socks, shoes, accessories, everyday basics and even trendy must-haves.

6) Earn recycled clothing rewards.

Box of Recycled Clothing

According to the EPA, Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste every year. Several stores have enacted sustainability practices which include recycling programs. You drop off items for the company to recycle them, and in return, they provide various rewards. Take a look at these brands’ recycling initiatives:

  • Levi’s: Drop off denim from any brand at a Levi’s store. In exchange, you’ll get a gift card for the value of your trade-in.
  • Patagonia: Trade in your used Patagonia apparel and receive credit towards your next purchase.
  • The North Face:  Drop off unwanted clothes and shoes at a local store and earn a $10-reward towards your next purchase of $100 or more.
  • Madewell:  Bring your “preloved jeans” from any brand to a Madewell store and receive $20 off a new pair. In a partnership with thredUP, Madewell assesses your jeans’ condition and either recycles or resells them through their Madewell Forever site  (which you can shop, too, regardless of making a denim donation).

7) Use the “Passionate Penny Pincher” cheat sheet.

Back to School Savings Cheat Sheet

With a keen eye for savings and savvy spending, Passionate Penny Pincher offers a ton of back-to-school information and news — including a free, back-to-school Printable Cheat Sheet. It lists commonly purchased school supply items and their prices at different retailers, allowing you to compare and possibly price-match to your advantage. Plus, they update their cheat sheet on a weekly basis with updated information.


8) Follow major and local retailers on social media.

Engaging with brands on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram presents opportunities to reap exclusive, brand community rewards. They occasionally announce exclusive sales and promotions, and they sometimes hold contests and raffles for cash or credit prizes.

9) Stick to a budget.

This is the hard part, especially with so many options, but sticking to a set budget helps eliminate unnecessary or impulsive purchases. If you're shopping in person, using actual cash instead of a credit card can be helpful (visit a convenient Security National Bank ATM or branch location near you). Or, set up an exclusive debit account for back-to-school shopping (establish a set amount per child based on their age and supply needs).

10) Head out for Tax-Free Weekend.

This two-day tax holiday arrives just in time — Aug. 4-5 — for you to save money on back-to-school supplies. Unfortunately, South Dakota and Nebraska do not have sales tax holidays, but if you live close to the Iowa border, a quick shopping trip might be worth the drive:

How does it work? The tax-free weekend is exactly what it sounds like: for any item of clothing and footwear under $100, you’ll be charged zero tax. And even if you miss this year’s holiday, plenty of stores are holding “end-of-summer” sales. Be sure to hit those up.

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About the Author

Jennifer Pennings

Jennifer is the Branch Manager at Security National Bank's Northside (Leeds) branch location in Sioux City. She has more than 15 years of Banking experience at SNB, including Safe Deposit Box Clerk, Teller Trainer, Personal Banker, Senior Personal Banker and Assistant Branch Manager.