Tips for Back-to-School Shopping With Teens

Parent and teen shopping

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Back-to-school season is a time many parents look forward to every year. However, while you may be ready to kick off the new school year in the fall, rising costs across sectors may mean your wallet is not as prepared. Prices of back-to-school staples have risen between 8% and 18% from 2021 to 2022, according to an analysis of July 2022 inflation data by The Balance.

Despite higher prices, most parents still consider school supplies to be essential. And according to the National Federation of Retailers, the average family plans to spend $864 on school items during the 2022 school year.

While it may be expensive, back-to-school shopping can be an opportunity for families to find new ways to save, and for parents of teens to teach some valuable financial lessons. In this article, learn financial tips you can share as you embark on back-to-school shopping with your teens.

Key Takeaways

  • Back-to-school shopping can serve as an opportunity to teach your teens important lessons about money.
  • Even when costs are going up, there are still ways parents and teens can save money, including creating a back-to-school budget or utilizing fall holiday sales.
  • Teaching teens the value of prioritizing needs over wants can help prevent overspending.

Start With a List

Starting a new school year may send your teens’ fashion senses into overdrive as they think of new opportunities to impress their peers. However, before you embark on a journey to the store, it’s important to help your teens understand how to prioritize needs versus wants.

One way to share this lesson is to have your teens create shopping lists. When creating a list or plan for how the shopping trip will go, have your teens write items in order of what’s really needed at the top, then what can be considered secondary or “want” items at the bottom.

For example, new exercise sneakers might be a necessity, especially if the old ones no longer fit, so that might make it to the top of the list. However, a new seasonal jacket could likely land on the bottom of the list as a want if they already have one from last season that still fits and is in good condition. Most importantly, once you create a list, stick to it so you don’t fall victim to impulse buying while in the store.


By seeing what they really need listed in front of them, your teenagers will be able to understand spending with intention. But also remember to teach that a few “want” items or a fun buy every once in a while is OK.

Create a Back-to-School Budget

Even after you have a list, it’s easy to get carried away with all of the items on the shelves once you start shopping. One way to combat impulse shopping is to set a back-to-school budget based on your family’s finances and needs.

Once you have an idea for how much you want to spend, bring your teenagers into the conversation and explain how basic monthly budgeting works. Explain that a budget is not actually restrictive when used correctly; rather, it makes it easier to plan, save, and control your expenses. This way, before even getting to the stores, you set expectations while your teens learn the valuable lesson of living within their means.


When talking about budgeting with your teenagers, it may be beneficial to walk through your monthly expenses, if you feel comfortable. This way, you can show the difference between fixed and variable expenses and how to account for them.

Check Your Supply First

Rather than automatically running out to shop for everything on your list, first check your home to see what you already have. Kids and teenagers typically bring home a backpack full of stuff at the end of the year, and some of it may still be usable.

This is specifically true of school supplies, rather than things like clothing and accessories. You may already have a drawer full of paper, pencils, highlighters, and even an extra calculator. Again, this is a great way to teach your teens about recycling, reusing, and not spending extra money when they don’t need to.

Keep Sales Tax Dates and Holidays in Mind

Some states have sales tax holidays every year during the back-to-school shopping season on relevant items such as art supplies, computer supplies, and recreational equipment. This can be a great time to help your teens understand how taxes work and how the absence of sales tax can make your back-to-school shopping more affordable.

Knowing how to take advantage of the tax holiday in your state can help you spend less on things you would already buy, according to Brad Godwin, SVP and head of partnerships at Shopkick.

Tax-free weekends vary by state, but they generally occur in August and September. New Jersey’s tax-free holiday, for example, is from Aug. 27 through Sept. 5.


Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 5, is also a good opportunity to head online or into stores for sales. Most major brands and department stores offer discounts ahead of, on, and slightly after the long weekend.

Remember to Comparison Shop

Teaching your teens about doing a little research to compare prices for each item they want can go a long way toward saving money. Even if your teenager has a favorite store, it’s a good idea to look at all of your options before making a purchase.

To maximize savings when shopping in-store, consumers should compare prices online before even leaving the house, ensuring they get the best price,” Godwin told The Balance in an email.

Use Credit Responsibly

Credit cards can come in handy when you’re back-to-school shopping. However, before you whip out the plastic, remember to think of credit card usage as a teaching opportunity for your teens.

Credit cards can be a great financial tool for students and those just starting out,” Mary Hines Droesch of Bank of America told The Balance in an email. Credit cards can give young adults purchase protection, free credit score checks, and help them to start building credit.

“However, it’s essential to be prepared to manage your credit responsibly and pay your credit card bill on time and in full each month,” Droesch said.


When talking about credit cards with your teenager, it’s important to describe how credit cards allow you to borrow money from the bank, as long as you continue to make monthly payments toward the balance. Important concepts to cover include interest, purchasing limits, and credit scores.

Don’t Forget Those Coupons and Apps

While back-to-school shopping with your teens, consider downloading a few money-saving apps or utilizing online deals from big-name retailers. Retailers such as Walmart or Target may offer special deals online and the option to “ship to store'' for free.


While online shopping has its perks, there are many pitfalls to the process that can actually cost you more money in the long run. Delivery fees, "limited time" sale pop-ups created as a tactic to promote impulse shopping, and internet sales taxes are a few things to watch out for.

There are even coupon sites such as RetailMeNot, ShopSavvy, and Dealcatcher that will help you find promo codes and search for coupons for the items on your list.

The Bottom Line

According to data from Experian, 39% of 2021 college graduates said family members are their preferred sources of financial education. As your kids grow up, having open and honest discussions about money is essential, as it teaches financial basics that will stick for years to come. While back-to-school shopping season can be a springboard or introduction into financial education, remember to continue the conversations through everyday situations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you decide what a good budget is for back-to-school shopping?

How much you plan to spend on back-to-school shopping will depend on your individual needs and budget. Preparing in advance can be beneficial, as you can set savings goals and create a timeline to get there. Always think about how much you can afford to put aside and what you and your family truly need before deciding on a spending limit.

When does back-to-school shopping start?

Back-to-school shopping will be different for everyone based on your financial circumstances. However, starting early and keeping an eye out for sales can help ensure you get the things you need at the best prices. In 2022, 56% of back-to-school shoppers report they started buying or at least browsing as early as July.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Balance. “Back-to-School Shopping May Cost Up to 18% More in 2022.”

  2.  National Retail Federation. “Families Prioritize Back-to-School and College Spending Amidst Rising Inflation.”

  3. New Jersey Division of Taxation. “Sales Tax Holiday for Certain Retail Sales.”

  4. University of Michigan. "Impulse Buying: Design Practices and Consumer Needs.”

  5. Experian. “Class of 2021 Reveal Most Anticipated Money Milestones and Adulthood ‘Firsts’.”

  6. National Retail Federation. “Back-to-School Trends To Know.”

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