Tips for saving money when back-to-school shopping

Tips for saving money when back to school shopping. Tim Boyle/Getty Images

TORONTO – Money is on the mind of Canadian parents as they head out to do back-to-school shopping.

A new consumer survey shows that 78 per cent of Canadians think back-to-school shopping has become increasingly expensive and 69 per cent have a budget in mind when they hit the mall.

The survey, conducted by online coupon site RetailMeNot, also found that despite efforts to budget, a majority of Canadians will spend more than $200 to send their kid back to school. Twelve per cent will spend over $400.

Tips for saving money when back-to-school shopping

Look for deals online first

By heading straight to the brick-and-mortar stores without checking online first, Canadians are missing out on major savings opportunities, said Angela Self, co-founder of Smart Cookies, a company that offers financial advice for everyday life.

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The RetailMeNot survey found that the majority of parents polled (roughly 60 per cent) do most or all of their shopping in physical stores, “and they may be missing out on major online savings,” said Self.

One of the biggest tips Self tells shoppers is to make a habit of checking an online coupon site before heading out to the store.

READ MORE: Online price comparisons for back-to-school shopping

“There really are great deals to be had,” said Self. Stores such as Hudson’s Bay and SportChek will often offer deals online such as 20 per cent off a purchase of $100, she said.

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In addition to using coupon sites, like RetailMeNot, there are a number of price comparison sites, including and, that will list how much an item costs at various retailers.

When shopping online, choose retailers that offer deals such as free shipping, promo codes and discounts.

List all the items you actually need, not just want

The RetailMeNot survey found that in addition to students, parents also feel peer pressure when back-to-school shopping. Over half of Canadians polled (58 per cent) admitted that other parents influence what items they buy for their kids. The majority of parents (82 per cent) said they believe their child’s peers influence what items students want for back to school.

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Self said she’s witnessed parents buy laptops that are hundreds of dollars more expensive than another brand because their friends have the same one.

With all that external pressure to have the latest and greatest things, Self recommends making a list before you shop, dividing up the items you actually need and the ones that are just “nice-to-haves.”

To figure out what school supplies your child actually needs, some schools will list items on the school website. If your child’s school doesn’t do this, Self recommends asking the teacher what is needed.

Another suggestion is to buy just the basics before school starts, then wait until students go back to figure out what else is needed.

Parents can get their kids involved in making the list of needs versus wants. Then hop online to compare prices.

Other savings tips

  • Shop early. This will ensure the items you need aren’t sold out and will give you more time to search for the best deal.
  • Look for student discounts. In addition to promotions and coupons, some retailers offer discounts exclusively to students.
  • Buy refurbished electronics. We live in a “throw-away” culture when it comes to electronics, so buying a laptop refurbished is a great way to save money on quality products.
  • Recycle items from around your house. You may be surprised how many of the items you need are already in your house. Have a scavenger hunt with your kids for items before buying new.
  • Hold a swap. Host a clothing swap with other parents. Kids will often want brand new clothes for back to school, but “new to you” may suffice.

Share your favourite savings tips in the comments below!


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