College is expensive, to say the least. Between tuition, transportation, and room & board, the last thing college students want to think about is back-to-school shopping.
Most students heading to college will end summer vacation with back-to-school jitters and an extensive shopping list. The school supply list for college goes above and beyond the usual pencils and binders. College students moving on campus must also prepare for dorm room living.
The cost of setting up a tiny home away from home can add up quickly. The following are some back-to-school shopping hacks to help college students get everything they need for school without spending a fortune.
Use Rewards Programs and Apps
Consumers who don’t take advantage of rewards programs that earn discounts and cashback leave money on the table. Here are some ways students can earn cash and rewards for purchasing items they need for college.
Mobile users can download free apps to earn points for all eligible purchases. One such app is Fetch Rewards, which users can download with Apple iOS and Android devices. Scan or upload receipts from all your assets, including gas, retail, and grocery items and watch your points increase. Another way to rack up points quickly is to refer family and friends to Fetch Rewards. Users can select the invite button to share their referral code to contacts on their phones.
When Fetch users are ready to cash out, they can exchange the points for gift cards to popular retailers like Target, Walmart, and Amazon, to name a few. Students can then use their gift cards to buy some of the items they need for school.
Store Loyalty Programs
Many grocery stores, gas stations, retailers, and drug stores have loyalty programs where consumers can earn points and discounts for purchases online and in-store. Students should scan their loyalty cards with every purchase to take advantage of the rewards and save money.
Credit Cards with Cashback
With credit cards being one of the most popular payment methods, students should research credit cards they qualify for and provide the best cashback rewards. Students can easily earn cash back on necessary purchases, such as new textbooks and meals, that add up quickly.
Check Out the Second-Hand Marketplace
Many college graduates moving out of student housing have furniture and other things they are willing to sell at great prices. The best time to look for these deals is when final exams have ended, and they are moving out before the summer. New students should search the dorm and college area for ads where graduates may have posted items for sale.
Asking family and friends if they have any household items they don’t need anymore is another excellent way to save money. Many households have extra things they are happy to part with, which also helps them declutter.
Finally, check out the storefront and online thrift shops. Thousands of items perfect for college living are listed in good condition and at a fraction of the price consumers would pay at retail stores.
Textbooks are another significant expense for students, and finding them second-hand should always be the first method of trying to buy them.
Use What You Have
Transforming quality furniture into modern pieces isn’t just a trend but a recognized way to save money. Upcyclers can attest to enjoying many pieces of furniture that were once heading to the trash. Upcycling is also environmentally friendly as it keeps old furniture out of landfills and gives them a new life.
Back-to-school shopping also doesn’t mean students must buy all the same supplies yearly. Look at the condition of the collections from the previous school year before purchasing more items. The number of pencils, pens, binders, rulers, and calculators households often have lying around can add up.
Don’t Just Stick to Big Box Stores.
Consumers often head straight to significant retailers to shop for household items and school supplies, but this isn’t always the most cost-effective way. Students should check out discounts, dollar stores, and drug stores for school supplies. Yes, even drug stores sell school supplies and often at great prices.
There is also a misconception that good-quality items can only be brand names. But generic items are often manufactured in similar areas to oversized brand name items and have the same quality. The only difference is that the non-brand name item is cheaper. Compare both brand names and generic products before adding them to your cart.
Get Student Discounts
Many big and small retailers offer student discounts from 10% to 20%. Students need to show their student identification cards to claim discounts when checking out at the cash register.
Get Advice From Social Media
TikTok’s and Instagram reels are full of college students doling out advice on what college students need to buy for college and dorm living. If you search for the dorm living at the college you are entering, students will show you exactly how they have set up their rooms, giving you a better idea of what you need to buy without overspending.
Saving Money With Back to School Shopping Hacks
Collect things you have at home first, and then source second-hand items from friends, family, online, and thrift stores. Always shop with apps like Fetch Rewards and loyalty programs to earn discounts and cashback. Students entering college can save money by following these shopping hacks.
Shop at stores that give student discounts and look for cheaper, generic brand items. Finally, make sure you only buy what you need based on advice from other college students.
Jeff is a Harvard 2025 student passionate about making smart financial decisions both in school and in the workplace so that he can spend more time doing what he loves (like playing golf, spending time with family, and travelling). He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys sharing all things personal finance, academic, and golf-related. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.