Ah, Back to School season. I can remember as a child this was my favorite time of the year, and probably one of the reasons I even went into teaching! Ha! The thrill of all those new supplies being passed out on the first day, the smell of new Crayola crayons, brand new pink erasers, decorating pencil boxes, covering books with brown paper bags….so many fun memories!
But these days, as school budgets are strapped, it is the teachers and parents that are having to supply the classrooms. Here are 12 easy ways you can save money (and time) on buying all those school supplies!
Stick to the List & Shop Alone
If you have an official supply list from your child’s teacher or school, be sure to print it out and review it carefully with your child before you shop. If you have younger kiddos, you may not need to buy non-essential school items like backpacks, 3-ring binders, pencil boxes, etc. Many early elementary teachers actually request that you not send kids with backpacks and other bulky items as there is just not a need or classroom space to accommodate these types of items. Shopping alone will also help with sticking to the list and the budget.
Don’t Skimp on Name Brands
While you may be able to find a number of the items on your kid’s Back to School list relatively cheaply by buying the store brands, speaking as a former elementary school teacher, there are just some items that should not be skimped on. The quality of some off-brand supply items is low and kids and teachers alike will be frustrated and disappointed with the results. To avoid the hassle and the added expense of having to replace off-brand supplies, here are just a few of the items that should be name brand:
- Wood Pencils – Ticonderoga #2’s are the preferred brand. Dollar store or even some office supply store pencils do not sharpen well (the painted wrapper peels, the lead falls out, the wood casing doesn’t shave evenly around the tip, etc.) leaving a huge mess behind at the classroom sharpener and a student with a 1″ pencil stub to write with.
- Crayons – Crayola has been the leading brand for years and with good reason! Off-brand crayons contain a lot more wax producing a flaky, clumpy, sticky, waxy mess. (Restaurant crayons anyone?) The color pigment is also not very good (blues look green; reds look pink; yellows look orange). A 24-ct. box of Crayola will last a student the whole school year!
- Colored Pencils – Crayola. Long-lasting pencils, vibrant colors, and easy sharpening.
- Markers – Again, Crayola. You want washable, bright colors.
- Glue Sticks – Elmer is the preferred classroom brand. Long-lasting and great hold.
- Backpacks – If you have older kiddos that will be schlepping around a ton of books and such, Jansport or any brand that offers some kind of “fix or replace” warranty is best. Cheaper (especially licensed) items tend to be of poorer quality and may have to be replaced with wear and tear several times throughout the year. A good backpack can last for several years!
Opting for the less expensive store brand supplies may seem like a great deal, but the quality just isn’t the same. You will no doubt end up buying the items several times more throughout the school year. Skimp where you can, of course, with rulers, scissors, binder paper, pencil boxes, erasers, etc.
Plan on Shopping Often
Unless you aren’t looking to save money and really hate the hassle of shopping (that would be me!), you don’t have to knock out your supply lists all in one store. Try to grab a few things each week as sales pop up throughout the summer or whenever you see a good deal. Keeping a supply ‘stockpile’ on hand is a great way to keep costs low.
Yes, school typically starts in September (or late August), but with many schools being year-round now, retail stores will put out the best deals on supplies as early as the beginning of July! The most popular school supplies can be found in huge center-of-the-store displays or they may be moved to a “seasonal” section of the store (where you would typically find holiday decorations, summer items, etc.) where shoppers can find the lowest prices. As summer winds down though, these items will be carted back to the home office section and will once again be full price! So, even though your mind may still be on that beach trip or lounging at the pool, try to fill supply lists early!
Price Match Or Grab a Raincheck
If you are running around trying to fill supply lists and hitting nothing but empty shelves, ask for a raincheck or try price matching at another store. Stores like Walmart, Target, Staples, and Office Depot / Office Max offer some sort of price match policy either in-store or online. (Staples not only matches competitor pricing, they’ll discount by 10% of the difference!) And save all of your receipts – if you spot a better deal, your store may offer a price adjustment.
Shop Penny Sales
Many office supply stores offer “Penny” sales each week where school supply items like rulers, erasers, and glue sticks are on sale for 1¢. These sales promotions do require a minimum purchase amount though (usually $5) and there are purchase limits. Ask friends or relatives to hit up the sales for you or bring hubby or older kiddos so you can really stock up!
Search for Coupons
Check the Sunday paper coupon inserts, store flyers, Back to School supply displays, and even on products for manufacturer and store coupons for school or office supplies. You’re likely to find coupons for name brands like Bic, Elmer’s, Kleenex, Purell, Lysol, Crayola, and Post-it. You can also check for printable coupons or use reward sites for extra savings.
- Target coupons
- Target Cartwheel offers
Be sure to compare supply prices online before you buy. Often times you can find the same low advertised in-store price! Add in the luxury of not having to drive around to a million different stores with kids in tow and having the supplies delivered right to your door? Yes, please.
Shop Clearance Sales
Even if you’ve already done most or all of your supply shopping over the summer, don’t forget about all those great deals in September! You’re likely to find items 50% to 90% off at stores like Walgreens, Walmart, and Target. Great time to stock up on items for teacher gifts or for all of those school supply donation requests that seem to come throughout the year.
Buy in Bulk
Many times the price per item is about the same (or even better) when you buy supplies in bulk. You can split the package between siblings and save the rest for future needs. Or go in with relatives, other classroom parents, or mommy friends and buy large quantities of school supplies together. Divvy up all the supplies and the cost!
Amazon is a great place to find deals on bulk school supplies!
Shop Dollar Stores
Hit up your local Dollar Tree, 98¢ stores, or the ‘Dollar Spot’ at Target (prices may be as high as $3 on some items though) to find school supplies. You won’t find everything on your supply lists (and probably not the name brand items requested like Crayola), but you’ll find great deals on items like rulers, notebook paper, index cards, rubber bands, white boards and markers, folders, dictionaries, and more!
Whether you’re looking for crayons, lunch bags, backpacks, or uniforms it never hurts to check out what you can find pre-owned. Sort through your child’s supplies from last year and see what is still usable. You may even have supplies that can be handed down from older siblings.
Places like yard sales, thrift stores, consignment shops or sales, online “Buy, Sell, Trade” groups, Craigslist, Freecycle, etc. are where I love to shop first! I have found some of the best deals in June shopping my local thrift stores and yard sales. Many teachers retire after the school year ends or they change grade levels for the next year and you can find a ton of classroom items like children’s books, art & craft supplies, curriculum & teaching resources, and even basic school supplies! Be sure to check back again in September and October for more items being purged as the school year gets under way.
While thrifting will make the supply shopping a little less painless on your wallet, remember that half the fun of going back to school is all the new supplies! A brand new box of crayons (remember the smell?!), a few pink erasers, and some new pencils will bring huge smiles and boost confidence on the first day of school!
What about you? Are you knee-deep in Back to School supply lists? How do you save?