Big Family, Little Budget: Cost-Cutting Back-to-School Shopping Tips from Mega Families

big family little budget - back to school shopping tips

When it is time for your children to go back to school, there are a lot of expenses to consider. There are new uniforms, textbooks, stationary, transport, field trips, extra-curricular activities, and lunch costs. Budgeting for back-to-school shopping can be overwhelming if you have a big family, with lots of children at various stages of their schooling.

No one understands better how to save on back-to-school shopping than large families. Families like reality TV stars the Duggars and the Bates know especially how smart shopping and thoughtful planning can result in big savings. For these families, and others like them, cost cutting at any time of the year is vitally important.

No matter how large or small your family might be, some tips and tactics from these mega families can help reduce the cost of your children’s back-to-school clothing and supplies, taking pressure off your family’s budget and wallet.


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hands putting coins in piggy bankGeneral budgeting tips

For mega families, unless they carefully plan and follow a budget, financial disaster can quickly follow. Back-to-school expenses, like taxes, come around every year at the same time. One budgeting strategy used by families with lots of children is putting away money every month for specific purposes, including school needs.

This can be a useful tactic for any size family to help them survive this time of the year.

Here is what mega families do: Work out how much you might spend, divide it by the number of payments you could make over the year and put that amount away each month or even every week. That way, when it’s time to buy school clothes, footwear, and supplies, you have a stash of cash set aside for just that purpose.


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Buying school clothes

Can you imagine the expense of trying to clothe six, eight, or more children? The costs can destroy any budget.

Children grow out of clothes quickly, ruin them on the playground, or become fashionistas and refuse to wear certain colors or styles. Mega families are acutely conscious of these problems and have developed strategies to deal with it.

Here are some of the tactics parents of large families recommend to help save on school clothing costs:

  • Always be on the lookout for specials throughout the year. If you see a great deal on wholesale t-shirts or other essential items, buy them and stock up.
  • Shop for and buy essentials online wherever possible. This shopping will save you time and allows you to easily comparison shop for the best deals. This tip can also apply to your children’s school uniforms, as many uniforms include everyday pieces, such as polo shirts that you can get whenever you see a bargain.
  • Sites such as will help you get the best deals, coupon codes and provide you rebates when you shop through their sites. Many retail stores offer subscribers extra discounts and free shipping too.

hand-me-down clothing quote

  • Anna Duggar recommends youbuy used when you can. Discover where the best second-hand stores are in your city. Determine when each store generally receives new stock and plan your shopping trips accordingly. Look carefully through the shelves in these stores, too. Sometimes items in thrift shops get stuffed away on the wrong shelf or underneath other items. You can often find some hidden gems with a little time and patience.
  • If you have a large family, hand-me-downs are inevitable. Any clothes that aren’t destroyed by one child get passed onto the next in line. This tip can also apply outside of your family. If you are friendly with your neighbors and their children are getting older, ask if you can purchase their outgrown school clothes. Blazers, dress shirts and ties for example, are worn only for special events and stay in great shape, so they are ideal hand-me-downs.    
  • If your children wear school uniforms, even if it is just polo shirts and khakis, second-hand uniforms may be available online or from your children’s school. Some schools often sell used uniforms at the end-of-year school fair, so check with your school. If they don’t have a gently used uniform program start one. It’s sure to be a success!   


kids in uniform playing at school

  • Shop out of season and end of season when you can. If you go shopping at the end of the season, you can get some terrific bargains on clothes you can use the following year. So, shop at the end of winter for next year’s winter jacket and boots.
  • Don’t think you need to buy everything at once. Your children start school in the summer, so if you need to, you can put off buying winter clothes until later in the year. This helps to spread out the costs.
  • Some retailers like Rack Room Shoes offer discounts on multiple purchases. Plan to buy all your children’s footwear at the same time for the best deals.

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Caring for school clothes

Mega families quickly learn that unless you instill in your child a sense of responsibility and need to take care of his or her school clothes or school uniform early on, your clothing expense budget can be astronomical.

Caring for school clothes allows you to pass them on to younger siblings or sell them to someone else.

Some clothes care tips from mega families include:

  • Make your own laundry soap. This can be easy to do, lasts a lot longer than the laundry soap you buy at the supermarket and can save you a lot of money if you are doing multiple loads a day. It can also be gentler on fabric, which will mean clothes last longer.

  • Label everything so when your child loses something, there’s a better chance it will find its way back to you. Especially when children are young, this can be a big issue with detachable parts of the uniform, such as sweaters. With sturdy labels, misplaced items might be returned. Use only your last name if you can, so siblings don’t fuss about wearing hand-me-downs.

  • Learn to sew. Mega family matriarchs understand how some skills not considered fashionable today can really help save you money. We tend to throw out items that have lost a couple of buttons or split a hem. If you don’t sew, learn how. If you do sew, teach your children how to mend simple things and sew on buttons to help stretch your clothing budget.   

clothes care tips graphic

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How to feed your children at school

Food is a massive expense when it comes to large families. This can be a huge part of any budget, even for smaller families.

Growing children eat a lot! Three meals a day plus snacks, seven days a week, for even one child adds up quickly. With six or more, the costs can seem astronomical.

Mega families know, however, how to keep these costs under control.

You can cut down on this expense with a little planning ahead and still keep your children healthy and energized.

  • The first rule for grocery shopping according to the Scary Mummy blog (a good resource that mega families swear by) is to shop by a list. This idea is particularly important when it comes to shopping for children’s school meals. Make sure you know exactly what your children want and will eat, and then buy it in bulk when it is on sale.

  • Collect and use coupons for favorite school snacks. Mega family moms tend to be compulsive coupon clippers and for a good reason. You can literally save hundreds of dollars per month by judiciously finding and using coupons. In addition to the newspaper circulars, there are plenty of online coupon sites and smartphone apps that will help you save.

  • Buy supermarket brands whenever you can. Mega families rarely buy brand names. Generic brands often taste the same but cost significantly less.

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Transport to and from school and activities

mother and son riding in busMega families know it is impossible to coordinate transportation by yourself for after school and other activities. Even school transport is difficult if you have children in elementary, middle and high school at the same time.

Here is what mega families do:

  • They take the initiative and set up a carpooling agreement with other parents. This can be done for sports and other clubs too.  

  • City-dwelling mega families are expert public transportation users. They purchase multi-use bus or subway passes that their children use once he or she is old enough to ride public transportation by themselves. Most cities provide cards which offer cheaper rides on buses and trains, so do like a mega family does, and research offers in your hometown and take advantage of exceptional deals.

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School supplies

This is an area where mega family parents excel. Today, even public schools require you to purchase many items that in the past were provided.

Pens and pencils, rulers, calculators, and textbooks—children need all sorts of supplies before heading back to school. Organizing this can be a fun task for some families, and a way to start preparing and anticipating that first day back at school.

Renee from the Little Earthling Blog, another mega family favorite resource, suggests the following tips and tricks that she uses when dealing with her family of 14.

  • Make a list of what each child needs and stick to it. That way you will not forget any essentials, and your children are unable to sneak extras into the cart.

  • Shop at home first. Go through your children’s rooms, through the office and through every other space where there might be pens or pads of paper. Everything you find is one less thing to buy.

  • Try dollar stores for the small items like pens and pencils. These stores can be a cheap and easy way to get most of the basics your children will need.

  • school supplies wooden backgroundTake notice of back-to-school sales and shop at a variety of different stores, making sure to buy everything you need at the cheapest price you can manage.

  • Buy more specific items first, for example, a model of calculator or a new backpack. Generic supplies typically drop in price late in the season, so plan to buy paper, pencils, etc. then.

  • A tip that might not be possible is to leave the children at home. The last thing you need is for your children to follow you around and try to influence your choices.

Some more tips mega families use that might help you cost cut at this time of the year are:  

  • Use a price comparison app such as Dealnews. Many retailers will honor competitors’ coupons too.   
  • Buy enough school supplies for the year when they go on sale in the late summer. If you find you have too many, they will always last for another year, or you can share them with friends who are in the same situation as you.
  • Buy in bulk from wholesale stores and split the cost with friends, and skip the office supply stores.

  • Shop online for used textbooks. In some cases, it may be less costly to rent textbooks instead of buying them. Consider electronic copies, as these are often cheaper.

  • You can also rent calculators. Some schools have rental programs, but if yours doesn’t, try, which rents various models of Texas Instruments calculators for a low monthly fee.

  • Buy refurbished electronics especially for younger children who are prone to dropping them.

  • Some stores provide discounts on electronics for college and high school students. Check out the Apple Education Pricing page or Best Buy’s College Student Deals.  

  • If you are looking for activities to entertain the children this summer, have them make their own school supplies. Get directions on on how to create a pencil case out of a mailing tube.


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Extra-curricular activities

Extra-curricular activities can enhance your children’s experience of their school years, give them new skills, and even help them to make new friends. But as families with multiple children know they can also be expensive and time-consuming.

two children on swim team

Here is how mega families cope:

  • Set a family budget and determine together what extra-curricular activities you can afford for the year and stick to it.

  • Never give away or sell old sports supplies, as you never know when one of your younger children may become interested in an activity that an older child left behind.

  • Budget time as well as money. With large families, traveling to or watching extra-curricular activities could take an exorbitant amount of time. It is the same for smaller families. Moms and dads with large broods give each child a time budget on their after-school activities and make sure they stick to it.

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Take advantage of tax-free incentives

Many States, such as Virginia and North Carolina, for example, offer a tax-free incentive on back-to-school supplies, including clothing. If you are a large family, this is a fantastic way to save money on your back-to-school costs. Try to purchase as many of your school items during the tax-break holiday as your budget allows.  

Final Thoughts

With some planning and these large family expert tips, parents of large and small families can reduce the cost of getting their children ready for the new school year while still meeting all the school’s requirements.

Enjoy the time. Your children are only this young once!

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