School Supplies

It's starting to feel like the school year is just around the corner and it's only July!  Are you beginning to get ready?


With a troubled economy and the cost of many family necessities on the rise, most of us are looking for practical and easy ways to cut our spending this fall with our back-to-school shopping list.

Did you know that the back-to-school season is the 2nd largest consumer event behind the holidays? According to the National Retail Federation, an average family will spend about $450.76 on back-to-school items. Families with children going to college will spend much more!  Saving money is not easy, especially when our kids seem to be wired to want the latest and most fashionable things out there! Check out the following tips, they can help you avoid emptying your wallet this back-to-school season while still getting everyone what they need.

Tips for Saving on Back-to-School Shopping:

1. Take Inventory

Look at what your children have from the previous school year and determine what can be reused for this year. Not only will you save money if you reuse, but it’s also eco-friendly. Rulers, pencil cases, backpacks, lunch boxes, sharpeners, and calculators don’t typically need to be replaced each new school year. Once you have located all the school supplies in your home, place them in a central bin so you can take a good look at what you already own before you head out to shop for new supplies.

2.  Do a closet sweep

Has your child really outgrown last year’s clothes? On average, a family spends about 30% of their back to school budget on clothes, so not buying even a few items can really save you a significant amount of money. After you have assessed what clothing your child can still wear this school year you can buy what they still need.   If your children are older, discuss with them what items you will be purchasing for the new school year and your budget, so they don't expect a brand new wardrobe.

3.  Set your budget

Know how much you have to spend and only spend that much.  This is hard for me to do, I love the feel of a new school year and part of me feels like my children should have new supplies and clothes, but even grownups can learn that it's perfectly fine to reuse and to not always have the latest must-have items.  It’s helpful to bring the cash that you will need on your shopping trip and limit your purchases to just what is in your purse.  I allow our kids one small extra purchase that’s not on the supply list.

Some parents set a limit to the number of character-based supplies they will purchase since they tend to be more expensive than the store brands.  With older kids you may want to determine ahead of time how you will handle their requests for non-essential items. Here are some suggestions:

  • They can pay for anything not only list.

  • They can pay the difference between what you will spend on an item and what they want to spend.

  • Let them spend more on a certain item, as long as they are aware that they must then spend less on another.

  • Back-to-school season is a good opportunity to teach children between needs and wants.

4.  Steer towards Store Brands

Unless your child’s back-to-school supply list asks for a particular brand, buy the store brand when possible. Many store brands work just as well and are typically about 30% cheaper than name brands.

Supplies 25. Buy Quality

While tempting, it’s not always best to buy the cheaper option. Buy quality items where they matter. I don’t care if my kids have name brands markers or crayons, but I will invest in a good backpack that will last more than one school year. Hint: For backpacks it’s a good idea to look for ones with a lifetime warranty and that are non-character based. They will last longer and your child won’t outgrow the characters.  I also like to get the notebooks with the plastic covers because they are very durable and I look for cloth pencil pouches that can be washed.

6. Leave the Kids at Home

I tend to spend more when the kids are with me.   I can't focus on making sure that I am getting the best deals on the items in my shopping cart and somehow “extra” stuff not on the list ends up in our cart. It’s great to involve your kids with back-to-school shopping, just be strategic as to how do this.  It makes sense to bring the children with you when shopping for new clothes but you can leave them behind when shopping for school supplies, especially if they are younger.   If you bring them with you make your children aware that you have a budget and will limit your purchases to it.

7. DIY

I have to admit that I am not drawn towards the plain school supplies, so I don’t expect my kids to ask for them. However, my girls do love stickers. Buy the plain school supplies and let your kids decorate them with stickers, markers, pictures, etc.

8. Shop online

Shopping online is great for back-to-school items because you can instantly compare prices at stores without spending time or gas getting to the stores.  Try sites like for finding great deals on back-to-school supplies.  Shopping online is especially helpful for bigger ticket items, like calculators.

9.  Think Ahead and Buy in Bulk

Buy products that your children will need during the school year now, when they are on sale, and in bulk. You may even buy some basic supplies in bulk and share the cost with a friend. Consider having a box or shelf where you keep extra school supplies handy for your kids, so when they need crayons in a few months or need a new notebook you are all set. If you can think ahead to the holidays (they will be here before you know it), go back to the store after the school year has started and take advantage of the steep discounts on school supplies – they make great stocking stuffers!  You can also donate some of the school supplies that you buy in bulk to local kids in need.   My children's school does a big back-to-school campaign for a local less fortunate school, so we always buy extra basic supplies to donate.  Local after-school programs, shelters or churches may know of places to donate your extra school supplies.

10.  Shop Early

The more time that you give yourself to shop for school supplies this season, the more time that you will have to keep an eye out for good deals.  If you buy school supplies over the course of a few weeks and stick to your budget, the cost won't seem as bad if you buy everything at once.  Many stores start their back-to-school sales in early July!

Happy back-to-school shopping!

Published in Kids' Stuff