5 Ways to Save Money Back-to-College Shopping

How Much America Spends on College Shopping

By: Reyna Gobel

Back-to-college shopping can add $1,000 or more to the annual price of college. To keep your costs down, try these simple shopping tips: 

Create a list of needed items.

Get help with the list by your student talking to both their professors and dorm resident assistant. Professors can answer questions on textbooks and related supplies. For instance, their professors can answer whether a student can purchase an older edition or international edition of a textbook to save money. They can also answer whether additional supplies listed on the syllabus are needed and why. 

The dorm resident assistant can answer questions on items you may need to purchase based on whether the room comes with a personal desk, lamps, or comfortable bedding. They can also  but advise on what advanced purchases may cause dormmate disputes. For instance, buying comforters in loud colors may cause a dispute with a roommate that really hates neon or even the color red, etc. For example, I love red accents but a bright red comforter is a bit loud for me. You may want to choose neutral colors if your student hasn’t spoken to their dormmate yet. If it’s possible to get contact info in advance, dormmates should coordinate decor with each other.

Create a maximum budget.

Conduct a basic internet search for prices for everything on your list. Confirm items you are looking for are the exact make and model so you can do apple-to-apple (and sometimes apple product to apple product) comparisons. Otherwise, you may be disappointed when an e-tailer is phenomenally cheaper, only to find out it was because you searched for a different ,older model. 

Jot down the website where you saw each item and the price. The total price of all items should be considered your maximum spending limit. Then, look for ways to save money. Put the difference in an account for your student when they have a budget shortfall. Since your student will benefit, they should help you find deals.

Minimize school bookstore purchases.

School bookstores often charge more for textbooks than online options, even on used books. There are two big reasons why textbooks are more in bookstores. The first is the bookstore has to pay overhead expenses to run a store that another student who’s selling their books to you online doesn’t. The other reason is school bookstores mainly sell books the current edition of the book. Your students professor may be okay with the student using a previous edition if the materials haven’t changed much.

School bookstores are good for last minute purchases and clothing with school logos. Always ask which items qualify for student discounts.

Find student discounts everywhere.

Everything from Microsoft Office to Verizon cellphone services offer discounts for students. When you’re purchasing ANYTHING for your student at any store, ask if there are any special prices for them, I paid a membership fee to join Student Advantage to get extra discounts on hundreds of products. 

Search for promo codes and sales.

To save cash, search for promo codes before buying anything online. Depending on the e-tailer, you may save up to 40 percent. In person, have your smartphone ready to show the same product at another store at a cheaper price. I’ve done this many times at Best Buy. The best part is you can purchase items in person and not wait for online shipping.  


Back-to-college isn’t cheap, but it can be less expensive. Use a combination of good research, promo codes, and student discounts to pay less. And if you choose to do so, consider putting the difference between the cost and the maximum you’d spend in an emergency account for your student. It could save you awkward calls later when they hit a budget shortfall.