BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details
Expert Shopper Education

Tips and products for shopping back-to-school on a budget

Alvina Wang/BestReviews

Smart back-to-school shopping strategies

With inflation still rising, it is vital to have a shopping strategy mapped out to purchase back-to-school supplies this year. Especially for your high schooler, because they need more items. And those items tend to carry a higher price tag.

Buying school supplies, however, is a little different than shopping for other items. In most cases, you will have several lists created by each of your student’s teachers. Some items may be very specific, such as the exact model of a TI calculator, while others may be generic, such as a three-ring binder.

Getting the correct supplies at the best price requires time and planning. This guide will help you make smart purchasing decisions. It covers basic back-to-school shopping strategies and lists 12 products that will help prepare your kid for high school.

Shop this article: Hydro Flask Stainless Steel Reusable Water BottleJanSport Cool Student Backpack and Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE

What school supplies does a high school student need?

While it is essential that you first consider the lists that your student’s teachers provide, there are a few general categories for you to consider.


These are the items that your student will use every day. You will find most of these on your student's supply lists that they get from their teachers. They will include pens, pencils, erasers, markers, notebook paper, binders, composition books and more.

Organizational supplies

Organizational supplies are anything your student uses to organize, hold or transport the items they use every day. These products may include a pencil case, a backpack, an assignment book, a calendar or binder dividers.

Tech and tools

This category includes anything your student requires to complete their assignments or to solve a problem they might run into during the day, such as a torn notebook sheet. It can be a specific calculator, a tablet, a compass, a ruler, a protractor, hole reinforcements, tape or even white out. 

Study supplies

If your child wants to spend a little extra time learning, you’ll need items to help them study. These could be post-it notes, page markers, index cards and highlighters.


High school students are still growing. What fit last year might not fit this year. You may need comfortable shoes, casual clothing, clothing that displays school spirit, athletic wear for PE, sneakers, jackets, coats, specific gear for co-curricular activities and more.


One category that students and parents may forget is the accessories that are essential to getting through each day. These will vary from student to student but may include a water bottle, a lunch bag, a case for glasses, contacts, combination locks for lockers, charging devices, towels, shower supplies for after PE, medications, an EpiPen and more.

Tips for back-to-school shopping

Strategy is the key when it comes time for back-to-school shopping. These tips can help you get everything you need for that first day.

Shop early

Even if the country wasn’t being plagued with supply chain issues, back-to-school products typically become unavailable by the end of summer. Do your shopping early so that your student has everything they need to start the school year off right.

Use school lists

Teachers make classroom lists for a reason: these are the items your student will need to succeed in the subject. The teacher’s supplies list is your starting point. Get those essentials first.

Don’t forget items that aren’t on the list

Classroom lists don’t always include products that will make your student’s life easier. After you check off all the items from their teachers’ lists, ensure you get the personal items they need daily.

Consider what you already have

If you have more than one student, the older child may already have what your younger child needs. Before buying a new item, check the items you already have at home.

Spend less on clothing

Clothing is important, but so is that expensive calculator. If it comes down to getting a $200 pair of sneaks or a $100 calculator, remember that the calculator will last longer.

Purchase quality items

School supplies need to be rugged. Notebooks are used daily, tossed in a backpack, thrown in a locker and mistreated. If you have a choice between getting a cheap budget item from a dollar store and paying a little more for a quality name-brand item, it is usually worth spending a little more on an item that will last the entire school year or longer.

Pay attention to sales

Back-to-school sales are a great way to get people to spend money on a specific retailer. Many stores will have deep discounts on a couple of key items that get you to their site. Take advantage of these sales, but consider if the other items that the retailer has on sale are worth it. If not, wait till the next sale or purchase from a different retailer to get the best deal.

It is also a good idea to download and install retailer apps, so you can track specific items and know when the best time to buy is.

Consider environmentally kind products

While this might not help you save money, it will help you save the earth. Always consider products that have been or can be recycled and purchased from companies with environmentally friendly manufacturing and business practices.

Budget-friendly products for your high schooler

Hydro Flask Stainless Steel Reusable Water Bottle

Hydration is essential to learning. It helps your student focus and feel revitalized. Sending your high schooler off for the day with 32 ounces of water in this vacuum-insulated option will help them stay hydrated throughout the day. Hydro Flask water bottles have a leakproof lid and a lifetime guarantee.

Sold by Amazon 

JanSport Cool Student Backpack

Your high schooler needs to bring many items to and from school each day. A well-constructed backpack is the ideal tool to carry all of these. JanSport’s Cool Student Backpack is durable, washable and has many color options. It is designed with ergonomic shoulder straps and zippered compartments for organization and comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Sold by Amazon 

Five Star Reinforced College Ruled Filler Paper

Reinforced notebook paper is a game-changer in the life of a student. This pack of 100 sheets of notebook paper is reinforced around the holes to resist tearing. It will prevent lost schoolwork and help keep all of your student's pages organized.

Sold by Amazon 

Gildan Heavy Blend Unisex Hooded Sweatshirt

A hoodie is essential school wear. This affordable offering from Gildan is made of 50% cotton and 50% polyester. It features a zipper closure and anti-pilling air jet yarn. The ribbed cuffs and waistband have spandex to help provide a more secure fit.

Sold by Amazon

Adidas Squad Insulated Lunch Bag

Teenagers need to refuel throughout the long day. Bringing lunch from home lets your student choose what they want to eat while saving you money. This durable lunch bag can keep their food at the perfect temperature and prevent it from getting broken or squished in transit.

Sold by Amazon 

Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE

Graphing calculators are required by high school science and math teachers. Texas Instruments make a quality product that can accompany your teenager throughout their entire high school career, and possibly into college. This popular model has a 10-digit LCD display and 12 software applications. The graphic functions can handle polar, sequence, cobweb plot, zoom, parametric plot, histogram, scatter plot, and more.

Sold by Amazon 

Belkin Boost Charge Wireless Charging Pad

Between classes, activities and part-time jobs, your high schooler may have a longer workday than you. To get through that day, they need a fully charged phone. Belkin is a trusted name in charging technology. This portable wireless charging pad is compatible with newer Android smartphones and iPhones.

Sold by Amazon 

Oxford Color Coded Ruled Index Cards

Flash cards are a classic tool used for studying and improving memory. These cards are lined to allow for neatness, while the color-coded bar at the top lets the student organize the cards by subject or category.

Sold by Amazon 

Prismacolor Premier Col-Erase Colored Pencils

A student can still use colored pencils at the high school level. Not only are they great for art class and doodling, but a student can use them for marking maps in history class, creating diagrams in science class and more.

Sold by Amazon

Staedtler Math Set

This set contains 10 essential tools often needed for geometry and drawing classes. Besides the typical items, such as a ruler and a protractor, you get a lettering guide, a pencil sharpener and more. The compass and divider have a short point for safety, and the set comes with a sturdy tin for organization.

Sold by Amazon 

Avery Flexi-View 1-Inch 3-Ring View Binder

Avery’s flex binder has a clear window in the front, which is a handy place to store a class syllabus. It can hold 175 sheets of paper and has a flexible spine. The durable polypropylene cover means that you can use this binder over multiple school years. 

Sold by Amazon 

C-Line Top-Load Sheet Protector

Sheet protectors keep your student’s reference material unwrinkled and stain-free. The 50 standard-thickness polypropylene protectors are sealed on three sides. They are designed so students can add and remove materials while the protector remains secured in the binder.

Sold by Amazon

Want to shop the best products at the best prices? Check out Daily Deals from BestReviews.

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Share this post: