Hard to believe, but summer’s almost over, and that means it’s time to think about how to save money on school supplies. My son’s school issued a lengthy list of “necessary” school supplies over a month ago. I put that in quotes for a reason: over the years I’ve come to realize many of the listed materials never get used.
Of course, I buy the tissues, dry erase markers, hand sanitizer, and other supplies intended for classroom use — I don’t want the teacher having to pay for such things herself! But after several years of buying everything on the list and using only a small portion of them, I’ve stopped buying much beyond binder paper, pencils, highlighters, and index cards.
Even if you aren’t comfortable ignoring certain items on the school supply list, there are still ways to save money on school supplies.
How To Save Money On School Supplies
Follow these tips to save money on school supplies throughout the school year. You might even save on next year’s items, too.
1. Set up a supply storage area.
Having a supply area is a good practice to follow all year, so your kids know where to look if they something. Post a copy of the supply list near the spot and check off items as you gather or buy them. You can use the list throughout the school year to replenish supplies when they’re on sale, too.
2. Shop your home first.
Remember the backpack your kid brought home at the end of the year, the one that’s been sitting in the closet ever since? Chances are, there’s a nice stockpile of pens and pencils in there. (And maybe a nasty lunch box, too, so be careful.) Things like rulers, calculators, and pencil boxes can be cleaned up and reused every year.
3. Don’t buy it all at once.
Shop both the early and late sales. Before school starts, you’ll often find pencils for as little as 10 cents and boxes of Crayons for a quarter. Other supplies that tend to go on sale before school include frequently-used things pens, filler paper, spiral notebooks, Crayons, markers, and erasers. Once school starts, more durable supplies drop in price. That’s when you can snap up savings on binders, clipboards, lunch boxes, and backpacks. Yes, the selection is smaller, but the savings are big.
4. Compare store prices with online sales.
Start with a site like Ebates, which gives you cash on your purchases, then click through them to places like Staples, Office Depot, and Office Max. Or head straight to Amazon’s school supplies page. Familiarize yourself with online prices and note the best on your school supply list before you head to local stores, then buy at the lowest price. Don’t forget to search RetailMeNot.com for coupon codes, too!
5. Shop tax-free when you can.
Although they’re going out of fashion, many states still offer tax-free days at the end of the summer. Check the list of tax free holidays before you shop. You can save even more money by buying buy bigger-ticket items like computers and college dorm furnishings, and even back-to-school clothing, on your state’s tax-free date.
6. Just say no.
Don’t let advertisers push you (or your kids) into believing they need a new lunchbox or backpack featuring this year’s hot cartoon character. You know from experience that whatever’s hot in August will be so over by Christmas, so why waste money on it? If your kids are convinced they MUST have the latest Pixar or Disney characters on their lunchbox, buy a plain one and slap stickers on it. When that character goes out of fashion, you can just soak the stickers away and replace them with new must-haves. This works on backpacks, too!
7. Get the kids to contribute with a savings jar.
My son’s school required him to have a pencil and a red ballpoint pen every day, in every class, but almost every day he’d lose them — or so he said. By the third month of school, he’d gone through the entire year’s supply of red pens! I got tired buying new ones and made it his responsibility to put 50 cents out of his allowance into the jar each week and use that money to replace lost items. At the end of the year, he’d get all of the unspent money. Not surprisingly, he got a lot better about keeping track of his stuff.
Remember, when it comes to knowing how to save money on school supplies, you’ve got to be a smart shopper — and a smart parent, too!