Mindset + Motivation

Why Your Kid Doesn’t Need a New Backpack This School Year

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The pressure to buy brand new back to school supplies is ON this time of year, but do our kids really need all that stuff? Here's why your child can do without the latest and greatest, as well as how NOT to spend quite as much. #schoolyear #kidschoolaccessories #newbackpack #newschoolyear #frugalliving

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a blog conference with my dear friend, Kira, who also happens to be one of the dynamic duo over at SunshineandHurricanes.com. On our way home, the conversation naturally turned to the back-to-school season and all the items parents needed, or should I say, felt they needed, to buy their kids!

You see, growing up, my parents didn’t spend much at all on back-to-school supplies. Our backpacks lasted about 3 years, and lunch pails every other. We maybe bought 1-2 new outfits and shoes, and our notebooks and folders were always the very basic kind.

I remember very vividly that my mom would allow my sister and I to each pick just one patterned or licensed folder as a special treat because they cost so much more than plain ones — and I have to say, I treasured that folder even more knowing I could only have one!

According to Money Magazine, parents are expected to spend an average of $207.27 per child this year, which is actually a little lower than last year’s figure. But honestly? I still think that number is way too high.Even with seemingly never-ending school supply lists, the steals and deals you can score around this time of year make back-to-school shopping incredibly affordable. And if you consistently shop smarter, you’re not going to need to spend quite as much. 

Here’s why your child doesn’t always need the newest, latest, and greatest school supplies, despite the pressure you might feel as a parent to buy them!

1. Quality Items Last

Big box school supplies are not necessarily known for their resilience. By the end of the school year, my pencils turned into tiny nubs and some of my folders were practically disintegrating. But that doesn’t mean everything has to be bought brand new to start, especially if you focus on quality products.

If you’re looking for a backpack that holds up to rough-housing as well as normal wear and tear, I can’t recommend L.L. Bean enough — these bags last a really long time! Yes, you might end up shelling out more money at first, but in the long run, wouldn’t you rather have a backpack that lasts at least 2 years instead of one with holes by Christmas break? The same mindset goes for lunch bags too.

Why Your Kid Doesn't Need a New Backpack | Back to School Supplies | Creative Savings

I asked the community what their favorite brands are for backpacks and lunch sacks, and here are ones they’ve used and loved. All have lasted more than one year, and many much longer than that!

  • Northface backpacks
  • Under Armour backpacks
  • Swiss Gear backpacks
  • Pottery Barn backpacks
  • Dakine backpacks
  • Wildkin backpacks and lunch boxes
  • Lands End backpacks and lunch bags
  • Neoprene lunch tote
  • ThirtyOne lunch totes

And because I know you might get a few complaints from the kiddos for not having a new bag every year, or because it’s too plain {i.e. no Disney character}, let them choose a patch, button, or charm to give their backpack or lunch pail some flair and personalization.

2. Clothes Don’t Have to Be Brand New

Even with all the back-to-school sales this time of year, brand new outfits can still cost a pretty penny. Add in a few extra pairs of shoes, and you’re inching a lot closer to that $200 mark…and fast!

Definitely check these places before heading out to the nearest mall:

  • ThredUP — I have been very impressed with the quality of items bought through this used clothing website, and you can get $20 in FREE credit if you sign up through my referral link.
  • Ebay — Ebay doesn’t often come to the top of my mind for clothes, but I think that’s more because when I first used the site years ago, it was mainly to sell my textbooks. The site has come a long way since then and you can get a lot of higher priced, brand name items for less.
  • Thrift Stores — I don’t always have much luck at the thrift store when shopping for myself, but since kids grow out of their clothes so fast, you often find better quality if you raid those particular racks. Call ahead of time so you know what days offer the greatest sales.

If you need to invest in a few school uniforms, Sunshine and Hurricanes has some great ideas on where to find them without paying full price.

3. Supplies are Ridiculously Cheap

Retailers count on families spending hundreds of dollars at their stores, so they entice you with low-priced products to get you inside. These “loss leaders” actually encourage more spending, because once you’re there, you might as well finish out your list, right? Nobody wants to drive to 5 different stores with kids in tow.

Why Your Kid Doesn't Need a New Backpack | Back to School Supplies | Creative Savings

While that might save time, it most certainly doesn’t save money. However, you can still be smart and make the most of any shopping trip. 

  • Go through your stash from last year to see what you really need. We always had a few extra notebooks on hand from previous shopping trips {don’t even get me started on the pencils}, and didn’t need to buy as much whenever August rolled around.
  • Find which stores have the best sales by following a blog that compares them for you. {I really like Passionate Penny Pincher’s match-ups}. Then pick just 2 that offer the best price for what you need {double points if you have coupons}, and shop only at those.

Saving on school supplies is just as much of an eco-conscious decision as it is a money one. We are so much of a “throw away and buy new” kind of culture, that rather than attempt to extend the life of items we already have, we look for the latest and greatest thing to replace it.

By choosing to shop with intention, you not only make a conscious impact on the environment, you now have a choice to put the money you DO save towards something the whole family can enjoy, such as an evening drive to the closest ice cream stand, or much loftier goal like a trip to Disney.

In that case, last year’s backpack seems like a small price to pay!

How do you control your spending on back to school supplies?

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Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

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  1. I smiled reading this because we reused backpacks for years…and the excitement was picking out the colors we wanted of the 10 cent plain sale notebooks! Still, the Prang watercolors lasted for years and we restocked throughout the year from my Mom’s sale stash of school supplies. Great tips, as usual!

    1. Thanks, Kristen! I always wanted a new backpack, but sometimes a quick wash was just enough to make it semi-new again. 🙂

  2. I’ve been shopping the back-to-school school supply sales since my daughter was in diapers! As a result, I have a great stash to raid for her list for next year. I’ll also shop this year’s sale, to fill in any gaps I may have.

    1. That’s such a great idea to stock up BEFORE they head off to school — you are one prepared mama!

  3. We have always used backpacks and lunch boxes for several years. We never had money to waste. We also would have fun buying a bag of school supplies to give the teacher on the first day…..dry erase markers, pencils, glue sticks, copy paper, and notebook paper was always well received!

    1. What a sweet gift for the teacher! I bet she really appreciated your thoughtfulness. 🙂

  4. School supply SCORE! I used cartwheel, mobile target coupons and gc I saved for earned purchases AND IBOTTA app. Went through last years & “my school supply stash” & spent out of pocket at Target 9 cents! I rounded out my trip at Staples to add to my stash & spent $15…

    1. That’s awesome! I love it when I can score an item on Cartwheel, with a coupon, and Ibotta. 🙂

  5. Help me with a few ways to frame the conversation with my 1st grader. He wants a new pack because his friends are getting new ones. I was thinking of cleaning it really well and inspecting it with him (no damage to it at all), and/or letting him choose a super cool pencil box and water bottle (he needs new now), and/or explaining the money we would have spent can go towards other things: saving or a fun experience, etc. Finances are not the issue, but I want to live out and show him how to consume responsibly, not just consume because culture says we should. Am I on the right track? What would you include in the conversation?

    1. Hi Kathrynn,

      I would love for more parents to join in on this thread. What a great opportunity to start a conversation of value and need vs. want. I love that you are tackling this even though you COULD just go buy a new backpack.

      One of the things that I have seen parents do that I love is to start a “savings account” (could be a simple jar) with your child that is for something that they really REALLY want. Then whenever you come across a situation where they want something that they don’t need ask if they really want that – or if they’d rather put more money in the jar. Actually letting them put the money in the jar could add to the motivation as well. Obviously this won’t cover all situations as sometimes we have to be adults and just say “no” but it is something that can start helping them gain a healthy understanding that money isn’t just there to be spent on every whim.

      My friend Kira (mentioned in this post) is GREAT at working with her kids attitudes toward money. I really recommend checking out her thoughts as well: https://www.sunshineandhurricanes.com/teaching-our-kids-to-manage-money-early/

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