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How to Save Money on (College) Back-to-School Shopping

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It’s almost August, which means it’s time for back-to-school shopping — regardless of whether you’re in kindergarden or in a Ph.D. program.

But most articles discuss school shopping for kids (crayons, anyone?), I wanted to put a little twist in the traditional advice. Here are my back-to-school tips for people who are heading to college or graduate school.

1. Save money on textbooks. A well-known fact about college textbooks: they are insanely expensive. It’s not unusual to spot a textbook that costs $200. But there is a way to save on these ridiculously expensive essential items -check out eBay and Amazon! These sites offer gently used books at half the cost. (When it’s time to sell the books, sell them yourself online instead of trading them in at the bookstore. You’ll fetch a better price.)

2. Hit up the thrift shop. Thrift shops are a treasure trove of gently used items that can be exactly what you need to spruce up a dorm or apartment. Items like area rugs, pillows, and curtains can be found at a fraction of the cost of department stores.

3. Plan out your shopping trip. Before you head out to buy your supplies, set a budget and stick to it. Know the maximum amount that you’re willing to spend. While you are in the store, use an app like Google Scanner to price-compare the cost of basic items.

4. Go to the dollar shop. Dollar stores (where everything costs $1) offer plenty of student supplies like pens, notepads, and binders. Check these stores first before you go anywhere else.

5. Shop late. Instead of shopping for your supplies during the back-to-school season, procrastinate for a few weeks. Shop during the off-season, directly after the sales, when retailers are trying to clear their remaining inventory. Although the variety might be limited, the deals are amazing. It is not uncommon to find prices reduced up to 75% off the original price.

6. Save money on a laptop. “Save” and “laptop” may sound like contradictory terms, but there are ways to save money a major purchase like a laptop. First, find out what basic requirements you’ll need. Shop for a computer with the least amount of space and power, and the fewest “bells and whistles.” If you’re tech-savvy, you might opt for a gently used laptop (but don’t attempt this if you’re not technical enough to troubleshoot!)

7. Shop around for printer paper. Most college and graduate students will be forced to print hundreds of pages worth of essays and homework, so saving money on just this one particular item (printer paper) can really pay off. The easiest way to save money paper is to print essays via the campus printer, assuming your campus allows you to print for free or for a low cost. If you have to print from home, buy paper in bulk and devote a decent chunk of time to shopping around for the cheapest deals. Websites like Froogle.com can help you price-compare.

Kennedi writes about saving money for Face & Fitness.

Save Money

AUTHOR Derek

My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.

14 Comments

  1. I’m planning to but a new laptop for this year. Do you have any suggestions what laptops offers a good/great user experience and performs great but is less expensive? I just want it to be use on managing my site and research stuffs.
    Anyways, thanks for another great and informative post. 🙂

    • Hi Mark. I have been a big fan of Lenovo for the past couple of years. I’m not sure if they are running promotions right now, but I have never had any performance issues with them. Their pricing is very reasonable though.

      • Thanks for the recommendation Derek! I’ll definitely check Lenovo out. 🙂

    • Personally I look to replace the laptop that may cost a little more, but will last for a long time. Case in point, we spent just about $400 for 2 laptops for our kids for using for school (and playing on of course). They are now 7 years old with the original batteries. One recently had a hard drive go bad, and the battery went bad. Prior to that, the laptop could run at least 5 hours on a single charge (smaller battery pack than our larger laptop – which lasts 8 hours for us).
      Suggestion: Do NOT leave your laptop charging all the time. Even Li-ion batteries have a memory and want to be charged if you leave them on the charger too much.

    • @Mark – I agree with Chris; spend a little more on a higher-quality computer that will last for a long time. I’ve had pretty good results with HP Pavilion, which isn’t the cheapest on the market, but it’s a very good computer. I’ve also heard good things about Lenovo but I don’t have any personal experience with it.

  2. I took 3 classes this summer semester- a literature class, a biology class, and a health class. If I purchased the textbooks through my college’s bookstore, it would have cost $229 (two of the prices included were for used books; but the biology book was $175 brand new, and there was no used option available.) I went to half.com and purchased all three books for less than $100 total. And now, I can resell those books and recoup my costs! It pays to shop around.

    • Wow, that’s a huge difference — from $229 to $100?! That’s a pretty stark difference!! Good for you for shopping around!

      • @Kennedi- yes, it was a HUGE difference. I had to be smarter when purchasing my books, since I was paying for everything out of pocket 🙂

  3. @Derek- Great point about buying books online. During my MBA, I bought ALL of my books from Amazon then sold them back to Amazon. Usually, I broke even or made a couple extra bucks.

    • Monica — That’s great! I like that you sometimes even came out ahead!

      • @Kennedi- Thanks! I usually waited until a month before a new semester to sell my books to increase demand.

  4. Really neat article post.Truly looking forward to read more. Will continue reading…


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