5 expert hacks to save on Back to School essentials

5 expert hacks to save on Back to School essentials

Fight back inflation with these money-saving tools

by Kurt Knutsson

It’s gonna set a family back $168 more than it did in 2019 for typical Back to School essentials shopping according to the National Retail Federation.

Ouch!  The average family is now estimated to spend $864 for Back to School season.

Swiping your way to saving money on your smartphone is one way to find bigger discounts.   Here are my 5 amazing tools you can tap into to save money and shave off some costs to getting the kids back to the classroom prepared for the school year.


#1  Retailer apps and manufacturer sites

Downloading big retailer apps can lead to more savings not found in the store or online.   From Target, Walmart to your local drugstore, many offer secret app-only savings and offers.  Retailers are trying to get us to shop more with their own app by combining an app purchase with an in-store pickup that with any luck can at times offer additional savings.  Look for each app in the official Apple app store and Google Play store, never from a link or other site.

Brand sites can have coupons, rebates and specials.  For example, Crayola.com has a 15% off offer during their direct-to-customer back-to-school shopping event.  This is where having a concise back-to-school list pays off.  Knowing which brands are on your list will make it easy to take a few money-saving moments to browse directly at the manufacturers for potential savings.

#2  Cash-back shopping apps


Cashback shopping apps like Rakuten let you earn cash back when shopping online.  There are 3,500 retailers participating in the savings according to Rakuten.

How it works is simple.  Register for free online,  then use their app or website while shopping at retailers that offer a commission for sending you to their shopping site.

Rakuten shares a portion of the commission it earns with you and once you earn enough cash-back savings, you can pick to receive a check, get it paid to your PayPal account or through the American Express rewards program.

Click this link and get a $30 bonus when you spend $30.



I’ve mentioned this app before.  Ibotta is an app that you use for couponing and gives you cash back on items you’re already purchasing at your favorite stores including grocery stores, food delivery, movie and concert tickets, and more.

Ibotta Save Earn Cash Back

Some of the most popular retailers you can find deals with through Ibotta are CVS, Walgreens, Target, Lowe’s, Petco, Domino’s Pizza, REI and over 1500 brands and retailers.

If you scroll to the bottom of the app, you’ll see a section called “Special Deals”.  If you scroll, you’ll see a panel called “Free made easy: All free offers all in one place”.


Freebies In Ibotta App

Last year at this time, there was a whole section dedicated to back-to-school supplies you can get for free.  Keep your eyes on this section to see if it may reappear for this year.

Click this link and use referral code mpiaurm to earn $10 when you submit your first receipt

Copy code to insert into the Referral code box on Ibotta “Create account” page: mpiaurm



#3 Discount and price comparison apps

Discount apps like Flipp aggregate sales flyers and store circulars.  All you do is put in your zip code and start browsing for savings from over 2,000 popular retailers.  The Watch List lets you track items from your back-to-school shopping list.  Make sure to create a tight shopping list of each item to track in case prices go down before or after your purchase.

Pro tip:  I like to track larger dollar items and then create a calendar entry in my phone reminding me of the last day to reprice a purchase to potentially get money back when the price goes down after the sale.



#4 Automatic coupon code apps

PayPal Honey

PayPal Honey leads the pack by automatically entering coupon codes into the promo code field when checking out at 5,500+ retail sites.

How it works: You can use the PayPal Honey app directly but you are better off using it the way it was designed as a browser extension.  Once added to your browser, it tracks where you are shopping and applies the best coupon codes without you needing to do anything.  Just watch the total price drop as you are checking out when there is a match to a good discount.

The PayPal Honey browser add-on is available on Safari, Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera and Edge browsers.  Again, for security only download directly through your browser and not from a link or email offer.

PayPal paid $4 billion dollars for the automated coupon code technology browser add-on.  That’s when Honey became PayPal Honey you will find here.

While it has come under fire by Amazon for privacy concerns, upon close examination it does not collect anything more than most other shopping technologies and says it does not resell customer shopping data.  Maybe Amazon does not like that it works with Amazon too which can drive down prices.


#5  Shop Refurbished and Like New

Amazon Warehouse

Amazon Warehouse has millions of open box, refurbished, renewed and used goods.  Few know that retail giant Amazon has a renewed outlet shopping area that can save you when buying items in good to like-new condition.

Make sure you get a very good understanding of an item’s condition before buying.  You are protected by Amazon’s policies making it easier to return the rare dud.

BookFinder.com buy and sell used textbooks. Search with your teacher or professor’s textbook ISBN number to make sure you are getting the exact match.

Watch that you have thoroughly checked the condition of any used textbook before pulling the trigger at checkout.

Avoid textbooks that say there are notations all in the various pages of the textbook as they may not be the notes that earn you a good grade!


My Bonus Back to School Shopping Tip

Locate a Sales tax holiday.  For about a dozen American states, you can take advantage of sales tax holidays.

These are dates set aside annually to incentivize shopping during end of summer periods.   Check to see if your state has a sales tax holiday and what amounts are capped for buying back-to-school items while avoiding paying sales tax cause every little bit can add up to meaningful savings.

Take a second to share this story with anyone you love so that they can benefit from what you just learned too!

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