Back-to-school shopping generates billions of dollars in spending each year on clothes, school supplies, electronic devices and more, whether it’s online or in stores.
So, given the massive sums of money earmarked for back-to-school shopping, how can you responsibly put back-to-school spending on a credit card?
Of course, the most important rule here is simple enough for a sixth-grader: Don’t overspend. Otherwise, you could end up with a pile of debt and a pile of interest charges — unless you pay off your balances in full when the bills arrive.
Here are six tips for making the grade when it comes to smart back-to-school shopping with credit cards.
1. Create a shopping list
Just as you might do when you’re shopping for groceries, put together a shopping list for back-to-school items. This can help you avoid buying more than what you and your kids actually need.
2. Establish a budget
Along with a shopping list, set up a back-to-school budget.
Research from consulting giant Deloitte shows parents planned to spend $597 per child on back-to-school shopping in 2023. You might use this figure as a guidepost for setting your own back-to-school budget, keeping in mind that your shopping needs may require more or less spending.
3. Look for bargains
Deloitte notes that the prices of school supplies have climbed 23.7% in the past two years amid high inflation, further driving shoppers’ desire to find deals. You can hunt for bargains by:
- Searching online for sales
- Tracking down coupons
- Buying back-to-school items during tax-free events in your state
- Signing up for retailers’ back-to-school discounts, such as 20% for members of the Target Circle program or Amazon Prime program
- Shopping at discount retailers that you might not normally visit, such as dollar stores
- Considering used items from secondhand stores
4. Buy in bulk
Especially if you’ve got a big family, buying things in bulk — such as crayons, pencils and notebooks — might help reduce your back-to-school spending.
When you buy in bulk at stores like Costco and Sam’s Club, you typically spend less per unit (such as per ounce or per pound) than you would at other stores. However, buying in bulk demands a bigger financial commitment upfront, meaning you’ll realize savings over time. Remember to buy only those items that you’re sure you’ll use.
5. Rely on credit cards with 0% APR introductory offers
Some credit cards provide 0% APR for purchases within a certain period, such as 12 or 15 months, after opening an account. If you’re able to qualify for one of these offers and then pay off your balance before the regular APR kicks in, you might save hundreds of dollars in interest charges.
The CardName, for instance, offers IntroAPRRate and on balance transfers made within the first 60 days (then RegAPR). In other words, you have over a year to pay off a purchase before being hit with interest charges.
6. Use credit cards that supply benefits
If finances are tight the right credit card can help offer you potential savings. Here are five credit cards that might put you at the head of the class for your back-to-school shopping needs.
Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard
In a 2023 back-to-school survey by commercial real estate company JLL, parents identified Walmart as their No. 1 go-to store for shopping. So, it would make sense to put the Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard in the back-to-school mix.
This card offers:
- 5% cash back on purchases from Walmart.com
- 2% cash back on purchases from Walmart stores and gas stations, along with restaurant and travel purchases
- 1% on all other purchases where Mastercard is accepted
Target RedCard (Mastercard)
In the JLL survey, Target came in second among the favorite back-to-school retailers. Therefore, you may want to put the Target RedCard on your credit card shopping list as well if Target is your shopping destination of choice.
The card offers:
- 5% savings on purchases at Target stores and Target.com
- 2% cash back on dining and gas purchases
- 1% cash back on other purchases where Mastercard is accepted
Amazon Prime Visa
Amazon landed at No. 3 on the JLL back-to-school list. As such, it might pay off to take a look at the Amazon CardName card, especially if you prefer to do most of your shopping online.
The card offers:
- 5% cash back at Amazon.com with an eligible Prime membership
- 5% cash back at Whole Foods Market online or in store with an eligible Prime membership
- 5% cash back at Amazon Fresh online or in store with an eligible Prime membership
- 5% cash back on Chase Travel purchases with an eligible Prime membership
- 2% cash back at gas stations
- 2% cash back at restaurants (dine-in or takeout meals)
- 2% back on local transit and commuting, including rideshare trips
- 1% back on all other purchases where Visa is accepted
If you don’t mind tracking rewards categories, the CardName may be an attractive option. The card provides 5% on purchases in different categories each quarter. On top of that, new cardholders can look forward to an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of all cash back earned at the end of the first year.
The card offers:
- 5% cash back on purchases at different places each quarter, such as Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
The CardName provides all-around versatility for back-to-school shopping, particularly because you aren’t required to choose and track rewards categories. Cash back is earned in the form of ThankYou points. Citi is a CardRatings advertiser.
The card offers:
- 1% cash back when you make purchases
- 1% cash back as you pay for purchases
- 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 18 months (then RegAPR)