Back-to-School Shopping: How to Save Money on School Supplies

Want to snag school supplies for less? Here's some back-to-school shopping advice from a local high school teacher.

Summer is winding down and back-to-school shopping has begun! For parents who want to ensure their kids have everything they need for the school year, but are trying to stick to a budget, this time of year can be stressful. But it doesn’t have to be!

Wondering how to get school supplies for less? We spoke to a local teacher – and did our own sleuthing – to compile these eight tips for saving money on back-to-school supplies.

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1. Let the kids raid the house

You may be surprised at the number of chewed, but perfectly usable pencils, erasers and pens, half-filled notebooks and crayon boxes at the back of your own craft drawers, closet shelves and file cabinets. Saving on expendables at the beginning of the school year gives you an excuse to buy them in bulk when they go on sale the week after classes begin, Organized Home suggests.

2. Keep a keen eye peeled

“I would encourage any parent to keep an eye out all year long for great deals – and not just at their local office supply store, but also the convenience stores, dollar stores and their favorite online retailer,” says Natalie Selweski, a high school Spanish teacher at International Academy – East Campus in Troy.

Many office supplies go on sale after Independence Day and at other periodic times throughout the year, like January, when college kids fleetingly return to their parents’ basements.

For the older kids, sites like Half.com and VitalSource.com sell textbooks at a steal. Parents with youngsters can even save money through the online, cash-back shopping venue Ebates, which acts like a shopping gateway for major retailers like Barnes and Noble, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart, Money Crashers notes. You can receive coupons, offers – including free shipping – and 6 percent or more cash back on your purchases all year long.

3. Keep to the basics

“I think that when it comes to high school, everyday school supplies become a lot more cut and dry,” Selweski says.

But for the youngsters, grocery store office supply isles can look like Disney and character-themed extravaganzas that persuade kids to get choosy and initiate grabbing contests with parents. You can choose to not take the kids back-to-school shopping, or you can compromise: allow them one or two specialty items of their choice. An alternative, cheaper customization option: stickers. Remember, fads flare and fade fast in grade school.

4. Teachers know best

Every classroom comes equipped with its very own consultant!

“A tip I would give students in high school: For any additional suggested textbooks or print resources, ask your teacher if you could purchase an older edition of the text, or a used version of the text. Sometimes this can save a large amount of money and still have all of the necessary information for students to access,” Selweski says.

The same goes for college professors. Many allow their students to download textbooks online. Moral of the story: Consult the teacher before you purchase any supplies. In many cases, if students email their prospective professors prior to the beginning of the semester, they can garner detailed information on required books and products.

5. Follow the feeds

Bargain-hunt by following your favorite retailers’ Twitter feeds – @Staples and @OfficeMaxDeal – and Facebook updates to get the inside scoop on sales and links to coupons.

6. Stick to the list

Stick to the supply list teachers pass out to kids on the first day of class, or post to the school’s website during the summer, and families are more likely to keep to their budgets.

Parents frequently ask teachers whether they recommend students acquire additional language acquisition software, or mathematics, grammar and history self-help cards to assist with in-class learning.

“I’m always very quick to say ‘No’ to this,” Selweski says. “Instead, I encourage students to (first) ask their teachers if they have a favorite website, app or if their teachers have a list of online resources that the students can access. These all tend to be free and provide the students with a chance to improve their skills when used wisely.”

7. “School List Assist”

In honor of teachers’ supply lists, Target has a program through their website called “School List Assist,” which “is a curated assortment” of the most commonly requested K-8 supplies,” says Amy Joiner, public representative for Target. “In a few easy clicks, parents can purchase the school supplies they need and then pick them up in store or have them shipped to home.”

8. Get “in the know”

Knowing your favorite retailers’ bargain markdown schedules will keep more change in your pockets all year long. For example, buyers can find deals advertised at Target.com.

Staples, too, circulates a weekly ad that parents can find online depending on their location. In addition, Staples’ “Less List” offers low prices on back-to-school products all season long, such as $0.50 for one-subject notebooks and two-pocket folders, $1 for a pack of pens and more.

Spend and reuse wisely, and you’ll be on your way to living within your budget in no time.

Ready to get your whole family prepared for back-to-school season? Be sure to consult this handy back-to-school checklist.

This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated for 2016.

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Back-to-School Shopping: How to Save Money on School Supplies
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