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Blog: Pencils, papers, compasses, crayons—ideas to save a few bucks on school supplies

With the first day of school right around the corner, here's a few tips on back-to-school shopping.

“You must be a teacher – getting ready for back-to-school?” The cashier commented as he began ringing up my notebooks, pile of composition books, couple dozen pencils, and peeked into my cart full of school supplies.

“Actually, no, I’m not.  These are just for my own kids.”

With four school-age kids, there’s a LOT of school supplies. And it adds up. Here are some ways I’ve found to save a few dollars (and my sanity) in checking off our supply lists.

The bag: Of course, the kids need a bag to carry all of their stuff to and from school; most popular is the traditional backpack. Before you purchase a backpack that's too small or too big, consider the age of your child, what they will be carrying, where are they carrying it, and the comfort of carrying it. Does your kid ride the bus or get picked up at school or do they walk home? Do they have to bring home textbooks or do they keep a set at home? Will those wheeled back-packs fit in their locker?  

Spend a little extra on bookbags and lunchboxes. I know, that doesn’t seem like a savings tip, but in the long run it is. I purchase my kids’ backpacks from Lands’ End and they’ve lasted a few years through school, vacations and camp. The key is to pick a design that they won’t get tired of before the bag wears out. We replenish lunchboxes every school year.

School supplies

  • Take the school supply list with you when you go shopping, then stick to it. If the teacher is asking for 24 crayons, don’t bother to get 48, no matter what the 7-year old tells you.
  • Take the kids with you. I generally prefer to shop without my kids, but I do take them school supply shopping.  1 – Because it’s their stuff, so they get excited about school by picking out their folders and notebooks and all that.  2 – Some of the sale items are a limited quantity per person. Put each child in line with their own stuff and their own quantity limit.
  • Buy at least three of everything on the list now while its on sale, not including binders and big stuff like that, but pencils, crayons, notebook paper, etc. Send one to school, put one away in your stash for when your kid runs out and tells you at bedtime she needs more glue for tomorrow, and put one at your homework station/supply basket. Put a few extras pencils and crayons in a school box in the car for doing homework on the go.
  • Consider the store brand. Sure, there are certain things that you have to have the commercial brand just because, for instance, crayons. But other stuff, like pencils, if it doesn’t matter, compare prices.
  • What will they need for an upcoming project this semester? Think back to last school year or ask parents of older students about this year – are there any big projects that might require specific supplies? Last year, my daughter had a research project and everyone else in the county must’ve been assigned one at the same time because there wasn’t a 4”x6” lined white index card anywhere to be found. They aren’t on sale right now, but I still picked up a pack to save the aggravation later. Also consider those tri-fold science fair boards and report covers.
  • Maximize your savings - use all your coupons, discount cards, send in the rebate forms. I went to Staples and found that they have a school supply discount card – you get 15 percent off of your total, the card costs $10 and is good through mid-September. Do the math to figure out if it’s worth it for you.
  • For some of the big purchases, wait until school starts or at least, don’t use the product and hold on to the receipt. My second middle schooler’s supply list for sixth grade math includes a super-duper calculator that runs about $120. I don’t recall my older daughter needing it for that math class, so I bought a much less expensive one for now.

Once you've brought home your haul of pencils and scissors and papers, make sure it doesn't all end up in Lost & Found or someone else's desk.  

  • Label all your kid's stuff. With a sheet of stickers (order some low-cost stickers from online vendors or print your own), a Sharpie, and a label maker (I love my label maker!) you should be able to get Little Susie's name on everything she owns.  
  • Don't forget their clothes! Think your Little Tyrone is the only one with that red jacket? Take a walk past the Lost & Found rack one day, you'd be surprised the stuff kids lose. There are vendors who print iron-on labels for clothing or you can use a Sharpie, a regular one or I found some specifically for fabric.  

We're almost done checking off our supply lists, just in time for school.

Any other supply-shopping tips?

 

Frances posts regularly on her blog, Just Piddlin'. "Like" her on Facebook at Just Piddlin' with Frances for blog updates and random tips and ideas about parenting, crafts, cooking, and books.


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Chris August 15, 2012 at 06:44 PM
As an educator and a mom to an elementary aged child, I will say to be wary of the store brand pencils. The pencil sharpeners will eat the cheap pencils up! I've found over the years that Dixon Ticonderoga pencils hold up well. Plus, they're made in the USA :-)

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