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Back to School Shopping on a Budget: Mom’s Tips to Stretch Your Dollar

It’s that time of year when kids need everything from crayons to clothing as they prepare to head back to school. National Heritage Academies (NHA) knows it all adds up, especially if you’re buying for multiple children. 
Dana Gurganus is a mom of five and also the principal at South Canton Scholars in Canton, Mich. Through the years, she has learned how to stretch a dollar. “I've not only been in education myself, but I've raised my kids all these years and there are tips and tricks that help to make things a little bit more affordable along the way,” said Gurganus.
Her first suggestion – don't purchase everything at once. “I watch the ads. I only buy the things that are on sale. So, I might be leaving the store with just crayons and that's OK,” said Gurganus. “I buy a little bit at a time. I just keep the school supply list in my purse.”  
When she finds a really great sale, she says she likes to stock up. “I buy extra and keep them in a tote in my house and use them as needed throughout the school year or save them for next year’s supply list,” said Gurganus.
Next, she believes there is a coupon online for almost everything, you just have to look. “I’ve found you can be part of some great groups on Facebook for Amazon. There are tons of Amazon coupon codes that nobody knows about where you can get things for 50 to 70% off,” said Gurganus. She’s also a big fan of using apps like RetailMeNot.

When it comes to clothes, especially school uniforms, Gurganus says don't be afraid to buy used clothing at secondhand stores and Mom to Mom sales. You can also connect with other families to swap sizes as students grow.

When she does buy new uniforms, she says she opts for high-quality. “My favorites are Dickies because they have reinforced knees and the Cat & Jack brand at Target, which is guaranteed for one year with a receipt.” She says that also applies to backpacks, because “buying a better backpack is really well worth it; we always get ours from Under Armor.”

The National Retail Federation is predicting consumers will spend a record amount this year on back-to-school shopping. According to its annual survey, families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $890.07 on back-to-school items this year, which is up about $25 from last year.

“I'm going to spend a third of that because I'm not going to buy things we don't need,” Gurganus stated. “My kids are reusing their backpacks from last year, and they got a few school supplies to add to what I already had, so I'll likely spend about $250 a child.”

Gurganus feels back-to-school shopping is the perfect time to teach kids, especially teens, about financial responsibility. “I think sometimes we as parents want to take on the responsibility and we don't think our kids are ready, but I think it's really important for them to see how much it costs to start the school year.”

She has found giving each child a budget helps keep costs down, while still giving kids a say about items like shoes, socks, and sweaters. “My teenage son wants certain shoes, so he knows he’ll need to buy less name-brand other stuff,” said Gurganus.

Gurganus says another important resource for parents this time of year can often be found nearby. “There are all sorts of backpack and school supply drives that happen. Check out your area, many times different organizations will be hosting outreach events right in your community.”

Thanks for the great money-saving tips, Dana!
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About South Canton Scholars
South Canton Scholars is a tuition-free, public charter school in Canton, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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