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For many families, back-to-school season means figuring out how to pay for another expense. According to consulting firm KPMG, the average spend per child on back-to-school items is $380 for the 2023 school year, up 20% from last year. What's more is the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates families will spend a total of $890 on school supplies.
To help ease the financial burden for parents, 16 states are offering sales tax holidays, giving consumers a little break on the cost of these back-to-school supplies.
Here are the states participating, and which purchases qualify.
In most states, retailers will automatically waive the sales tax at checkout, as long as the items meet the qualifications. However, it's never a bad idea to call ahead to the store to ensure they are honoring the holiday.
Here are the states that are participating, and details on the qualifying items.
School supplies are not cheap. According to the NRF, Americans will shell out $41.5 billion this year on back-to-school spending for K-12 and and additional $94 billion for college students. But don't break into a sweat as there are ways to save money on school supplies.
Consider shopping at your local wholesale store, including Costco. They will likely have better deals than a retail store, and since you can shop in bulk, you can stock up on school supplies for the entire year.
Consider buying more expensive items second hand
For laptops and other expensive items, consider buying used. There are always used laptops, graphing calculators and other supplies for sale on eBay, Amazon and other online platforms.
Local dollar stores
If you're shopping for a younger student, or someone who isn't particular about their supplies, consider going to the dollar store. Simple supplies such as pens, pencils, folder and erasers can be found year round at your local dollar store for much less than what retail stores charge.
Buy discounted gift cards
If you plan on shopping at one or two specific retailers, consider buying a discounted gift card from third-party gift card reselling platforms, such as Raise and GiftCardGranny. People can sell their unused gift cards for cash on these marketplaces, allowing you to save money on back-to-school purchases you were going to make anyway.
Use shopping portals or cash-back apps
Shopping portals give you the opportunity to earn additional rewards or cash back at hundreds of online retailers. In order to earn the rewards or cash back, you must start in the portal and then click through to the retailer's website. You can see what your retailer is currently offering in terms of rewards using a shopping portal aggregator like Cashback Monitor.
A cash-back app is exactly that, an app that gives you cash back based on your purchases by simply scanning your receipts from major retailers. Ibotta, a popular cash-back app, but if you're doing a fair amount of back to school shopping online, Rakuten is another strong option since it's a browser extension.
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Back-to-school shopping isn't a specific bonus spending category on credit cards, however, there are plenty of retailers where you can maximize your earnings with either a cash-back or travel rewards credit card. Also, if you are planning on spending a significant amount of money on one or more purchases, you may want to consider opening a new credit card to earn a credit card sign-up bonus.
Here are the best credit cards for back to school shopping for each type of purchase:
Apple products: Apple Card
The Apple Card is a great way to save money on all purchases, but especially if you plan on buying Apple products. You can earn 3% cash back on all Apple purchases, along with a myriad of other retailers like Uber, Walgreens, Nike, Exxon and Mobil gas stations and Panera when you pay with Apple Pay. All other purchases made with Apple Pay earn 2% cash back and all other purchases earn 1% cash back.
Online shopping: Prime Visa
Amazon is an excellent option if you're looking to do all your back-to-school shopping without the hassle of leaving your home. And in some cases, it can be even cheaper than visiting an in-person retailer.
By using the Prime Visa, you can earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market, 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% back on all other purchases. On top of that, new cardholders can earn a $200 Amazon.com gift card upon approval with an eligible Prime membership.
The card does not have an annual fee, but you need an Amazon Prime membership to apply for the card.
Supplies and clothing: Target RedCard™
If you prefer shopping in-person at your local Target, the Target RedCard is a great way to save money on all your back-to-school supplies. You will save 5% on all Target purchases (online and in-store), receive free two-day shipping on all eligible orders and get an additional 30 days added onto Target's 90-day return policy.
Large purchases: U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
If purchasing flexibility is your priority and you want to avoid expensive credit card interest charges, consider the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card. It's one of the best 0% APR credit cards currently available, as it offers cardholders 0% interest for the first 18 billing cycles, on balance transfers and purchases. After that, it is a 18.74% - 29.74% variable APR. The 0% introductory APR applies to balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening.
The card does not have an annual fee, but it doesn't earn any rewards or cash back.
Shopping for back to school can be both exciting and financially strenuous but by taking advantage of the sales tax holiday for your state, you could potentially save significant cash. If you're unable to shop during a sales tax holiday, you can also use credit cards strategically to earn cash back for spending you have to do anyway.
Information about the Prime Visa has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer prior to publication; if you purchase something through Select links, we may earn a commission.
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