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Back-to-school shopping: How to save money while going green

Parents share tools and tricks to save money while saving the environment when getting ready to send kids back to school this fall.

Posted Updated

Liz McLaughlin
, WRAL News

Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 on school supplies, according to the National Retail Federation. Parents, bloggers, and experts are sharing tips and tools to save money and reduce your family's carbon footprint this back-to-school season.

First, try secondhand shopping
Kat Steck is a mom and former teacher who started chronicling her "thrifting" journey as @thejunkyardjournals on Instagram, with the goal of buying less and saving more. "It's fun to be able to source things more locally and use things that would have been discarded otherwise," said Steck.
Kat Steck, mother and secondhand shopping enthusiast

She didn't buy anything new to get her kids ready for school, instead getting items from thrift stores and individual sellers. Steck says she often shops through Facebook Marketplace, where she uses the alert feature to get notified about certain brands or items she's looking for. Her haul included a like-new character backpack for under five dollars, 60-cent books, trendy clothes from the thrift store for 99 cents each, and a PlanetBox lunchbox for a third of the retail price.

"Living through this time of inflation, I like the community aspect of it and that I can put money into the hands of other families instead of just into big box stores," said Steck.

Steck is also part of her local Buy Nothing group that encourages communities to "give where you live." There are Facebook groups and an app available nationwide to connect with neighbors and give away or get items at no cost. Steck says her free finds have ranged from sports equipment to shoes, and that she also uses the group to borrow items that she needs for a project but that she doesn't use enough to need to purchase, such as a glue gun.

Greener Amazon purchases
Amazon shoppers can make those new purchases greener by downloading tool called Finch that generates a sustainability rating based on 6 environmental footprints.
Finch is a Chrome browser extension that gives a sustainability score to products on Amazon

"When you search for a product, you'll be able to see the score of that product and then a couple of alternatives in case you're interested in making a better purchasing decision," said Lizzie Horvitz, the CEO and Founder of Finch.

Amazon product rating from the Finch browser extension.

The Chrome browser extension is free to download and currently analyzes 85 different product categories. "Having the little green that that pops up assures me that I'm going in the right direction," said Finch user and dad Ricardo Behrens. "We have to start somewhere and the more conscious we are about how things are made, the bigger difference it can make."

Eco-friendly choices can cut costs

Packing lunches can be an expensive part of the school year, but some experts say reusable items like a water bottle and bento lunchbox can reduce waste and the reoccurring cost of single-use plastic bottles, Lunchables, water bottles, and lunch bags.

"I'm gonna get something that's sustainable, that's reusable, good for me, and good for my pocketbook," said Dr. Claudia Benitez-Nelson, an Associate Dean and climate change professor at the University of South Carolina. She suggests swapping the ongoing expense of Ziploc bags for reusable, dishwasher-safe silicone zip bags. She also says lower-carbon transportation options such as biking can cut the impact of high gas prices.

Dr. Claudia Benitez-Nelson is a member of Science Moms, a group of climate scientists and parents joining together to fight against climate change.
Benitez-Nelson started a group called Science Moms that aims to unite parents in the fight against climate change and encourage them to start conversations with their children.

"I think it's important to talk to your kids about how our planet is changing and the reason behind why we do the things we do to try and make sure that we protect our planet and make it a better place for everyone," said Benitez-Nelson.

WRAL's Climate in Crisis reporting is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund and Journalism Funding Partners.


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