The Champagne Life on a DIY Budget Since 2007

Minimalist Mama: Back to School on a Budget

back to school on a budget

Given my love of shopping and the fact that my daughter is starting kindergarten next month (eek!), you’d think it’d be easy for me to fall into the emotional trap of splurging on back to school basics. But the thing is, I’m practical — sometimes obsessively thrifty — about that sort of thing, especially when remembering my own back to school days as one of seven children, where I had few — if any — new things.

Here are some of my favorite tips for prioritizing and allocating the hard-earned dollars in your back to school budget:

Fall wardrobes can be an expensive and enticing lure. Sure, you want something that’s new to your child, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be brand new. It can be new but affordable, like selected items from bargain retailers such as Target and Old Navy, or try shopping secondhand kids stores, attending clothing swaps with other parents, and shopping your child’s closet! If you’re like me (particularly disorganized when it comes to my daughter’s closet), you may discover brand new clothing that was gifted or bought too big but now fits. Pieces that you can’t swap with friends but don’t want to save can be consigned to take the sting out of new purchases.

As someone with bunions resulting from a childhood replete with ill-fitting shoes, shoes are my top priority for back to school spending. Kids need to be well supported as they walk to and from school and run all over the playground, so focus on the right fit and go with the best possible construction. Look for the best value instead of the best price. I tend to shop for a lot of shoes online and love the sturdy yet lightweight construction of Eleven, See Kai Run, and Vincent Shoes. Use the online measurement charts!

Odds are that you have plenty of pencils, pens, and other supplies in your home. Collect as much as you can and assess before shopping. If you do want to purchase a small back to school token but have plenty of basic supplies, consider an inexpensive pencil/supply case. Also, check out my previous piece on the best online swapping sites to trade in last year’s reading list for this year’s reading list — all for just the price of postage!

Lunch boxes tend to take a beating so you may need to buy a new one. Opt for non-toxic construction and washable material to keep the lunchbox fresh and longer lasting. I’m an eco girl, so we always opt for cloth napkins and reusable utensils. Cloth napkins are an investment that will last, and you can breathe new life into old dishtowels or bandanas by using them as cloth napkins. If you don’t want to send your child to school with silver utensils, consider eco-friendly bamboo, instead.

As the lazy days of summer wind down, buy lunchbox basics in bulk to save money all autumn long. Check out Shoestring‘s recent guide to the best online coupon sites for discounts at retailers, including grocery and specialty food stores.

Story and image: Copyright 2009, Shoestring LLC & Christine Koh /