With some planning and a little know-how, any child can go back to school with a pack that didn't cost a small fortune. Here's how:
1. Buy from a company with a guarantee
Kids can be very rough on their backpacks, so spending a bit more for a good-quality pack may be worth it. Companies like Eddie Bauer, Jansport, Outdoor, Eagle Creek, or my personal favorite, Lands’ End, each has a guarantee of craftsmanship and quality on their products. If a seam busts, a zipper runs off course, or there is another malfunction with the product, you can claim their guarantee to get a refund or replacement on your purchase, often without even having a receipt. Most of these backpacks start at around $20 and up, but check the clearance section online at each store. What kid wouldn't love this Super Nova Kids Pack at REI, discounted to $19.73? (And because it's REI, it comes with a guarantee.)
2. Buy closeout
Not every kid needs this year's style. Closeout stores offer fun surprise brands and styles year-round, but particularly in July and August. Cartoon-licensed backpacks and drawstring bags (by manufacturers like Nike and Adidas) are especially popular there, with packs generally $8–15. Brand closeout stores like the L.L. Bean Outlets near the manufacturer in Maine offer bargain-basement prices for closeouts, returned packs, and even incorrectly-monogrammed bags. At a New Hampshire store last summer, I saw a bin of $20–40 kids’ backpacks with monograms, each for around $10. With a seam ripper and some free time, a monogram can be removed, resulting in a perfectly fine "new" backpack!
3. Buy used
It may come as a surprise, but backpacks are an item that can be found secondhand. As kids grow, as their tastes change, and as school regulations sometimes take over, some backpacks are discarded even when in usable condition. So be on the lookout for gently-used packs at thrift stores (national stores like Goodwill or the Salvation Army or local shops like two in my area run by churches), and follow these tips to help you shop there.
4. Consider an alternative style
Maybe your teenage daughter would prefer to carry her books in a large tote like a cute reusable shopping bag, a tote from the cosmetic counter you got for free during a makeup promotion (like this super-cute one from Estee Lauder), or a canvas bag she decorates herself (Wal-Mart sells a three-pack for DIY purposes for $7.97). Or maybe your son's school has gone bookless and all he needs is a sturdy laptop sleeve. A traditional backpack may not be in order for every child, as you may be able to repurpose another bag or carrier you already have for your child to use this year.
5. Shop online
You may have a vision of you and your child having a fun outing to the store to pick out a new backpack on the spot—but today's reality is that many times, online retailers offer better deals than brick-and-mortar stores. Whether through free shipping offers (which L.L. Bean always offers and which Pottery Barn Kids is offering on top of current 40-percent-off discounts), cash-back deals (like those through Ebates or Shop Discover), or available coupon codes (find some at sites dedicated to codes like RetailMeNot), getting a backpack delivered to your door can be fun for your child and a lot less expensive for you.
6. Wait until August
August is the best time for back-to-school sales, so though you and your school-aged child might be excited to make a purchase now, waiting until the height of sales (and pairing a store sale with an August sales-tax holiday in the states which offer them, or, of course, a coupon), will allow you to save a lot more. During August, Staples slashes backpack prices by up to 50 percent. If you buy a backpack (costing $59.99 or more) from Dick’s Sporting Goods between Aug. 4–17, you’ll receive a $10 gift card.
So as the kids go off to school, you'll smile not only at their return—but also in knowing their back-to-school supplies (like their backpack) didn't cost a fortune!