The Best Back-to-School Sales for 2022 to Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping
With kids heading back to school in just a few weeks, parents and teachers are bracing for the long school supply lists, field trip fees, and of course, new back-to-school clothes for your growing grade schoolers!
With money tighter than ever and inflation on the rise, families will be hunting for back-to-school deals wherever they can. This year, with groceries, fuel, and other household costs rising, the pressure is on more than ever.
Back-to-School Shopping on a Tight Budget
More than two years post-pandemic, the economic hits to families keep coming, with the news that many of the schools that enjoyed free federally funded breakfast and lunch menus for all students the last couple of years will see that support pulled for the coming academic year.
Knowing that school supply costs can burden families even in a good year, we’ve always made it a point to pick up a few extras when shopping, and I’m always happy we do because someone invariably forgets (or cannot afford) the requested sanitizers, wipes, towels, snacks, tissues, or baggies.
More than once, I have forgotten or been unable to locate an item myself, so I figure it all will even out. Still, with three kids already in school—and four next year—bargain hunting takes priority.
Look for Quality Clothing, Shop Early, and Shop Off-Season
Living in a rural environment with limited store choices, we use several criteria to identify back-to-school sales bargains. Our number one question: Will it hold up?
We want warm winter coats that won’t shred on the first day, backpacks whose straps won’t rip immediately, lunchboxes that don’t crack in half the moment they’re dropped or bumped, and sweaters that don’t pill after the first wash.
Is the price reasonable? Will my child use it? Does the teacher require it? And, in the case of clothing and shoes, how long is it likely to fit?
Of course, late summer and early fall are the traditional back-to-school sales pushes. One of my top money-saving strategies, though, as a parent of five, is to shop throughout the year. Got a coupon? See a great sale? Buy it now. A plastic tote in my mudroom has been the default depository for all my back-to-school purchases since last year’s classes wrapped: glue sticks, pencils, snarky tees, sneakers.
I’ve been poking around Amazon, Target, Costco, and Walmart all summer, so by the time the next school year begins, we’ll have only the odds and ends on individual teachers’ school supply lists to hunt down.
About 3-4 times a year, we pull out all the kids’ shoes and take stock of which pairs still have matches and whose feet need new coverage. We do the same with clothes, and I write down current and next sizes and any obvious wardrobe gaps. Having a clear idea of who needs what most urgently before we start shopping is a major money saver for large families.
Don't Replace What Isn't Broken
With a large family with lots of kids in school, we save money on back-to-school shopping by prioritizing what needs to be bought new, or at all. Some years, not everybody is getting the exact same number or type of brand-new back-to-school items. If somebody already has a great lunchbox, I might not replace that. We might pick up dress shoes instead.
Backpacks are our family’s exception to the above rule. The previous year’s backpacks are generally too worn out to be expected to make it through a second round. Any survivors get downgraded to travel, pretend play, camping, swimming, car entertainment, or overnight play date duty.
Another money-saving strategy is to evaluate how much of the supply list actually has to be turned in during the Fall.
Odds are high that if your student needs a particular pen or a protractor for the classroom, they will need one for homework too. We try to pick up homework and art supply stashes during our back-to-school planning to cut down on the last-minute panic sessions later.
Think Classroom Needs First, Clothes Second
School supplies are about what the child and instructor will need to get through their school days. New clothes and shoes are fun but less important to have right away, as long as your child already owns and fits into something clean and comfortable. We try to make sure every child has at least one nice new outfit choice for their first day, when we also take photos, and perhaps a few other new-to-them pieces for the remainder of the first week. Special occasion items such as party dresses or band outfits can usually wait a few weeks or months. Of course, if your child attends a school that happens to have a uniform policy, a school uniform wardrobe is an essential early purchase.
Set limits on what you’re able and willing to pay for
For teens and preteens, you can announce a budget and hold them to it. An alternative way to create boundaries around back-to-school expectations is to restrict the number of pieces or accessories you will cover. Perhaps they can get the sunglasses or the handbag, but not both, or they can select up to five shirts.
Regardless of your financial picture, it’s important to stick to what you can afford, but don’t be embarrassed if this is a year that you happen to need extra help. Many communities have backpack programs, free or discounted haircut programs, prom dress charities, and other local organizations and event drives that will happily assist with school supplies, winter clothing, sports gear, meals, and more. American public schools will also have information and paperwork available for families that may qualify for free or reduced meals or other district services.
We love loyalty discounts and member programs! Combine store reward cards or credit card rewards for the biggest savings percentages.
Here are some of the best opportunities for back-to-school shopping hauls:
The Best Deals on 2022 Back-to-School Essentials
Nobody at our house is easy on luggage, and we’ve broken more straps and snagged more zippers than we can count, so we’ve learned that the cheapest backpacks aren’t always the best deals. Discount retailers like TJ Maxx are always among our favorite stops for better-made backpacks and bags. For the best scores, though, you’ll want to shop in person because stock changes regularly and many of the nicest finds never make it online. Stack the upfront retail savings with your store’s loyalty credit card to earn points toward future coupons.
Pottery Barn Kids is a surprisingly great spot for children’s backpacks. The store’s mega sales—one of which is running at the time I write this—can run 20%-40% off or more. Pick up this adorable shark backpack made of recycled materials on sale now for as low as $35, or choose from loads of fun children’s themes such as space, licensed characters, and dinosaurs. For older kids, pop over to Pottery Barn teen to find larger bags and accessories designed for tween and teenage students.
Accessories such as lunch boxes and homework folders can be ordered in bundles or purchased a la carte, making it easy to mix, match, or avoid spending money on luggage and lunch gear you don’t need. You can have your child’s name or initials embroidered for an extra-personal touch if you don’t mind adding $15 per item. (If you’d rather save money, skip the personalization and use a permanent marker to label it in an inconspicuous location.) If you’re a Pottery Barn loyalty credit card holder or a Key Rewards member, you’ll qualify for points or additional discounts off your purchases. Free shipping is a nice perk, too!
Looking for even lower back-to-school sales prices? Try Kohl’s, where we found licensed Harry Potter gear at $19.59 with an online coupon, and this wheelchair-friendly Frozen 2 backpack for $24.49 before coupons. Amazon has this basic bag in a plethora of colors listed at $16.97, but you can find it even cheaper at Walmart: $14!
2. Lunch Boxes
Lunches are a hot topic this year, especially with so many kids headed back to schools that previously offered free meals. While many backpack options already come with lunch boxes, water bottles, or both, it’s also typical for kids to lose them or forget to clean them. Pick up some inexpensive replacements at any big box stores, or watch for sales on bento-style boxes. We bought ours by watching Bentgo on Amazon. This dinosaur lunchbox/backpack combo matches a lunchbox we bought earlier this spring. They’re offering both at 30% off, with an extra $2 coupon, along with plenty of other fun designs. Prime members can sweeten the deal with free shipping, and Chase Amazon rewards cardholders earn cash back on their orders.
With its affordable mix of straight-size, plus-size, and sensory-friendly offerings, Target’s Cat & Jack line is our number one pick for new children’s clothing. Throw in Red Card savings and it’s even better! They run sales often enough that even if you miss one, it’s not too long a way for the next, so it’s not too hard to find scores such as girls’ and boys’ jeans for $6.30 even when they aren’t running a 30% off special on kids’ clothing.
Need more affordable plus-size-friendly kids’ clothes? Walmart is a known go-to in this space, but JC Penney also has cute and competitive options, like this floral blouse on clearance for $4.49.
Although at least one of our kids has outgrown their products, The Children’s Place runs great clearance sales. Their back-to-school bonanza offers bonus member points on back-to-school purchases through Aug. 29, 2022. Sales are running up to at least 60% off children’s clothing. And if your kids need school uniform pieces, they’ve got you covered.
4. School Uniforms
Looking for school uniforms in plus or husky sizes? Check out Kohl’s, which is running sales on school uniforms now. We found girls plus shirts as low as $12, and young boys’ pants on clearance for $8.16. Kohl’s is running a 20% off coupon code online, offering 25% off in-store, and highlighting several other coupons on their website. Plus, orders over $35 ship free.
Don’t forget to check Carter’s for sturdy pieces that won’t break the family budget. Their socks, shoes, and undies 2-for-1 doorbuster is on now. Since many of their shoes normally run $30-$50+, this is a great time to score deals. On the virtual clearance rack, we found boys’ long-sleeved pocket tees for $5.59.
With all sorts of feet shapes and sizes to fit, and a toddler who likes to mix and match pairs when we aren’t looking, we do more than our share of shoe shopping. Discount retailers like TJ Maxx or Ross are good spots to check for in-person deals.
For basics, Target has affordable kids’ shoes that seem to hold up better than some competitors, in our experience. These unisex slip-on sneakers come in several colors and patterns and can be picked up on sale for $11.99. These ballet flats go up to a size 5 and are a steal at $7.99.
Amazon remains a go-to for us, especially for wide-width fitting, but in researching this piece, we noticed some deceptive pricing practice—kids; shoes were being listed for under $20, but when we clicked several ads to check further, the listed price was only available for toddler sizes. Nautica had several in the $31-$34 price range when we checked the “big kid” options for this style of shoe, including a pink and black combo for $31.49.
The Children’s Place is worth checking up to a youth 6. We found these rainbow boots at 30% off for $32.87—take an extra 10% off if you have a local store to ship to. Check out these starry sneakers at $29.96, or this two-pack of uniform running sneakers that’s selling for $53.42, making them $26.21 per pair.
Finally, there’s Walmart, with these shoes by Athletic Works ranging slightly from $16.95-$17.98, these girls’ department styles for $9.00, and these casual sneakers going for $4.17.
6. School Supplies
Need to grab some of the most commonly purchased school supplies in one quick go? Costco has a convenient 40-piece school supplies variety pack full of name-brand basics such as dry erase markers, large pink erasers, ballpoint pens, and glue sticks. There’s a $5 coupon to sweeten the deal through Aug. 7, but this product is only offered in stores.
While parents typically think of their usual big-box retailers for school supplies shopping, another resource is office supply stores, which, naturally, stock most of these items year-round. Staples has kids’ scissors at $0.74 per pair, composition notebooks at $0.50 apiece, and college-ruled spiral notebooks at an eye-popping $0.35 each with store pickup (and still only $0.69 delivered). Pay special attention to BIC-branded products, on sale now at 30% off normal prices.
Savvy couponers using receipt incentive apps such as Ibotta can sometimes scoop extreme discounts or the odd freebie at major retailers, but most parents simply want to get in and out with the least hassle possible. Dollar stores still have great options, but you’ll want to compare them to competitors because some supplies these days are going for pennies. Walmart has had great sales all summer—that’s where we already picked up many of our supplies, including pocket folders for about $0.50—and their deals are best picked up in person unless you’re prepared to hit their shipping minimum or you already pay for Walmart+.
If you’re shopping online, you’ll find dry erase markers for $6, glue sticks at 2 for $0.54, and name-brand Crayola crayons for $0.50. Target is offering off-brand crayons at $0.25 and colored pencils at $0.50, respectively.
7. Hygiene Products
Teachers are increasingly requesting parents provide products for keeping classrooms clean and germs under control. Common supply list items include sanitizing wet wipes, bottled hand sanitizer, zip-top baggies, and facial tissues.
Of course, for families with more than one child in school, one of the simplest solutions is to purchase bulk packages of everything and split them up among the household’s students. Local wholesale and bulk stores offer a lot of these, as do major wholesale chains. It’s usually cheaper to go in person to cut down on shipping, plus many smaller bulk suppliers don’t have much web presence. If you’d rather skip pushing the heavy carts, though, many of these items can still be found in online warehouses or regular box stores, and, like school supplies, they also tend to staple items for office supply retailers.
With some careful planning and smart shopping, families can still save money on this year’s school supply lists. To maximize savings, you’ll want to start early, compare prices across stores, bulk shop, and check in regularly with your kids about their wants and needs, as well as confirm their current sizes.
For more must-haves for the Back-to-School season, check out our Ultimate Back-to-School Checklist!