How To Save Money On School Supply Shopping

The days of summer are ticking away. As the last of family vacations are squeezed in, parents everywhere are becoming giddy with anticipation. That is until they remember the back to school supply shopping expense that awaits them right around the corner…

But before you decide to sell plasma every week for a year to help cover the cost, check out these money saving tips. Not only will you save some money, you won’t have to end up quite as holey either...

Be prepared, but don’t jump the gun
Wait for it…  Wait for it… Yep, the list. Remember the moral to the story of the tortoise and the hare? Being speedy doesn’t always get you the win. Neither will shopping before you know what you need, or before that stuff goes on sale.

Figure out what you need by grabbing a copy of the supply list. Give yourself a chance to look it over, and not just on the way to aisle one. Take the time to really mull over it. Make sure to break down which items are necessary, and which are on the “wish list” or are just suggestions. Who knows, you may already have quite a few of these items sitting around the house.

Having a list in hand should help you eliminate unnecessary purchases and stick to your budget. With supplies averaging about $100 per student, any opportunity to save some money is welcome.

Upcylce used items and add some pizzazz to your supplies
Before hitting the store to buy new items, hit your closet or local thrift shop and bring an older item back to life.This trend is not only cost efficient, but a lot of fun! With backpacks and gym bags taking a large chunk out of the school shopping budget, trimming the spending on these items can save you big bucks.  

There are thousands of sites with various skill levels, all with great ideas on how to add some new flair to that old backpack. With a little ribbon, paint, buttons, bling, patches, or washi tape, you are no longer reusing last year’s item, but carrying a new boutique-style one-of-a kind piece of work.

Binders can also be quite costly, averaging around $6.00 each, so adding some self adhesive contact paper to used or plain ones can really be worthwhile. Better yet, remnants of leftover material add a more sophisticated flair. Use any remaining scraps to add to pens, pencils, composition books and spirals for a matching set.

Create your own supplies and locker decorations

Cute decorations for a locker, desk, or dorm can really add up at the register, and put a huge dent in your pocketbook. But there is a more economical solution... Many of those expensive decorations are really easy to make. With just a little creativity, and a few household items, you can design an entire ensemble in no time for pennies on the dollar.

For example, a cute magnetic dry erase board can cost you upwards of $40 online. A DIY hack can decrease that total to around $3, plus 5-minutes of your time. Grabbing a cheap frame, a piece of scrap book paper, and a couple of magnets from the Dollar Tree, or a thrift shop, will have you writing notes in no time.

Create a plan of attack to grab the best deals
The phrase “stumbled upon a great deal” pretty much sums it up… So unless you’re incredibly lucky to stumble on these frequently, which I’m not, you may have to put a little elbow grease into searching for the best deals. Flip through advertisements and flyers (or look online) to compare prices for the things you need, then list the items along with the store name and sale prices so you have an overview of the best deals.

For items like notebook paper, pens, pencils, and such you’ll probably find the best deals locally versus online. But it doesn’t hurt to look… just make sure shipping charges don’t eliminate the savings you’ve achieved.

Another great place to browse are the dollar stores. I mean the stores where everything actually cost a dollar… But don’t mistakenly make the assumption everything will be cheaper. While you may be able to snag a 4-pack of glue sticks for $1.00, another store may have the same item on sale for less.

Also, don't sacrifice quality for price. It’s worth investing a few extra bucks up front rather than going cheap from the start and having to replace it after a short period of time.

Have multiple stores on your list? Don't fret...many stores offer price matching, so you may be able to knock out your entire list at just one place. Make sure to check the store's policy before heading to the register, and make sure you are matching the exact item. Notebook paper may be the same to you and me, but it’s not the same when it comes to price matching.

Stacking coupons to maximize savings
Whether in paper form or on your smartphone, stacking a coupon with a sale item is definitely the way to go to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Apps like Retail Me Not offer coupon codes you can use in store and online. The cashier can scan your phone, and the discount is taken at the register. If you’re shopping online you just type in a code during checkout.

Other great ways to get codes: Sign up for newsletters, text updates, or check Facebook for specials! Sometimes simply liking a page will earn you a discount.

If you find a great deal on an item from a local merchant that allows you to pick up items that are purchased online, there's a way to receive an even larger deal. Order the item online, but do it using Ebates. You'll get the item and price you were after, but also a percentage of your purchase amount back from Ebates. Up to 40% cash back! There are also plenty of coupon codes you can apply at checkout. It's worth the easy signup, and you'll even earn more for referring friends.

There’s power in numbers…
Bulk shop and split supplies with other parents: While you may not need a 60 count package of pens, your kid, and you friend’s kid, and your other friend’s kid may all be able to split that package. That’s where buying in bulk, whether online or at a big warehouse store, can come in handy. So instead of paying, let’s say $.30 per pen in a smaller quantity, you can reel in a deal at maybe $.07 each.

Splitting supplies also works well when you only need one item when two or more might come in a pack. Instead of getting stuck with unwanted extras, share supplies, and costs, with another student.

Wait for the mark downs
Don’t buy everything you need at once. A few weeks after school starts, merchants realize they have a little extra stock on hand and begin marking down items. This is the optimal time to stock up for the the rest of the year, and if you have the room, maybe future years. For items that won't go bad, like paper, folders, spirals, pencils, and scissors, grab stuff when you see them at rock bottom prices and store them away. If you end up not using them, you can always donate the items and snag the tax deduction.

Plan ahead for next year
Know the prices for sought after items, like a specific pair of shoes or jeans, and wait to take advantage of the extra savings during a tax free weekend (if your state offers one). You can stack the tax free savings with sale prices to obtain even larger discounts. Just make sure you're not giving up a better savings potential to claim no taxes. Cashing in on a 20%-70% sale is obviously better than saving a few bucks on the taxes. However, for things that don’t go on sale often, tax free savings is a good alternative option.

TIP: When buying backpacks and supplies, try staying away from current and trendy themed items. While your kids may enjoy the character right now, that may quickly change. It also makes it harder to upcylce...

Want to see more ideas about saving money? Check out my other posts on Fix Our Budget, and sign up to receive the newsletter.

Photo by Prawny. Published on 25 February 2014 Stock photo - Image ID: 100239277


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