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12 simple back-to-school shopping hacks for parents

Parents are expected to spend nearly $850 on school supplies this year — here's how you can save.

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Back-to-school season is in full swing. If you're scrambling at the last minute to get the students in your life everything they need for a successful year ahead, you're probably not alone. And by the time you get to the store, things tend to get pricey and shelves can be barren.

That's why Real Simple Features Editor Brandi Broxson stopped by TODAY to share all of the back-to-school hacks every parent should know about before adding supplies to their cart. The average family is expected to spend nearly $850 on supplies this year according to the National Retail Federation, so Broxson is breaking down all of the ways you can cut down the bill.

Keep reading for some smart back-to-school hacks to help make the year easier, from reusable lunch containers to patches and stickers that can make ordinary items feel unique.

Back-to-school shopping hacks

Buy plain and DIY

Broxson says the more "jazzier" items you add to your cart, the more expensive they'll be. You don't have to spend a small fortune to get personalized and themed school supplies. Purchasing stickers and using magazines to individualize their school supplies not only makes them unique but also makes them easier to spot in the classroom or in their locker.

Meri Meri Back-to-School Patches, Pins and Stickers

These fun patches, pins and stickers from Meri Meri can add character to any boring backpack, binder or folder in a matter of seconds. They come in dozens of adorable designs that any little one will love to decorate with.

Vemofoper Fidget Keychain

These fidget keychains are everywhere right now — and this set conveniently comes with clips to attach to a backpack for some bright decorations.

KimYoung Dinosaur Pins

These adorable dinosaur pins can be put on a denim jacket or backpack for an instant upgrade.

Amazon Basics Broad Line Washable Markers

Let them decorate without any of the mess. These markers feature washable ink that will come right off of their hands or any surface where stray ink is not welcome.

Despicable Me Minion Party Stickers

Their favorite "Despicable Me" characters can make the school day fun. With 16 sheets full of stickers, they can decorate folders, binders and more without glue or any messy crafts.

Dreamworks Trolls Stickers

If they prefer Trolls over Minions, this sticker set is sure to please. There are over 295 stickers to choose from, including the characters Poppy, Branch, DJ Suki and more.

Amazon Basics 3-Ring Binder (Pack of 4)

Stock up on this school essential to help any student stay organized this year. They're easy to decorate with stickers, or you can fill the cover slot with a fun magazine cover that they'll love.

Invest in gear that's built to last

Sometimes you really get what you pay for, Broxson says. That's why spending a little bit more on items such as backpacks are worth it, since you won't be replacing them each coming year. One hack to make a plain backpack a little more fun? Add some patches and keychains with their favorite characters that they can swap out as the year goes on.

Scout Pack Leader Backpack

Scout's backpacks come in several different designs and colors any student will love to sport this year. They feature padded shoulder straps as well as a padded back and roomy compartments for water bottles, a laptop, student IDs and more.

Whiskware Insulated Lunch Box

Investing in a reusable lunch box will pay off for at least a few years. This style from Whiskware is easy to clean and is insulated to prevent food from spoiling. Plus, it features a buckle that helps it clip onto a backpack, so it doesn't have to take up room on the inside.

Skip the disposables

Sustainability is not only helpful for the planet, but also it will save you some money in the long run. Ditching plastic bags and brown paper bags for reusable lunch boxes and bags will be an investment that you can reap the benefits of beyond the school year.

OXO Good Grips Prep & Go 20-Piece Container Set

Broxson says this tough, long-lasting set from OXO is a go-to since it comes with everything you need for lunch and meal prep, and once they're done eating, the pieces can be tossed in the dishwasher for easy care.

Stasher Mixed Lunch (Pack of 5)

This eye-pleasing set of storage bags will help you cut down on plastic waste and prevent your kids from having to throw away a snack bag at the end of the day. Plus, you can use them for more than just food. They're roomy enough to hold school supplies and other loose items they might lose track of during the day.

Stasher Assorted Reusable Bags

You can shop Stasher bags in different sets and sizes here, depending on your needs. You can also grab bundles and score different-size bags at once.

Save on extracurricular gear

Equipment for extracurriculars, such as sports and music classes, can be pricey. Since these kinds of items might be hard to grab on sale, purchasing previously loved equipment can help you save right now. Broxson recommends searching on places such as Facebook Marketplace, Play It Again Sports, eBay or Craigslist to find what they need.

Minimize your back-to-school shopping now

Odds are trends will change when October rolls around. Put off shopping for seasonal things until the time comes, so they can grasp what is trending in the classroom then. You can still make use of summer clothing right now, and all of the clothing you'd go to purchase before school will likely be on sale in a month.

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