WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Thursday thoughts 7-15: Back to school supplies that won't break the bank!

Posted July 15, 2010


As we look to the new school year, it’s time to tackle the daunting job of hunting and gathering school supplies. This is no easy task, as any parent knows. Not only do the kids need the traditional school supplies like pencils, paper and notebooks, they now have to purchase hygiene items like tissues, hand sanitizer and baby wipes. The list for one of my girls has 23 items on it and the list for my other daughter has 21 items. If I paid full retail for the 23 items on the first list (including a college dictionary, binders, baby wipes and book covers), it would cost approximately $72.00! I have two children but I know many families who have 3 or 4 children and the supply cost really adds up when you have a big family! So, what is a parent to do? Your child needs the paper, pens and notebooks, but you also need to pay the mortgage. If you are feeling the pinch of school supply costs, it’s time to get creative so you don’t overpay for supplies that you can find for a fraction of the retail price.

First step – shop your house! Before heading to the store to buy supplies, take a look around your own home to see what you may already have. Did your child’s teacher send home any extra supplies at the end of last year? Determine if they are in good enough shape to use again this year. Both of my girls treated their backpacks very well last year so they don’t need new ones this year. We also bought well-made backpacks expecting that would last more than one year. Items like scissors and rulers can be used for more than one school year. Before going school supply shopping, I always “shop” the plastic storage container under our bed with school supplies I have bought frugally over the last year, including the back to school clearance last September.

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT buy all your school supplies at one place. Many stores are offering great loss leader buys right now. These sales involve selling a few items at really low price, where they may actually loose money to lead you into the store. They realize that once you are in the store, with your long school supply list, that you will be tempted to just get everything at that store so you can be done with the shopping. So, you end up paying $3.00 for a pair of scissors that you could have bought for FREE after rebate at one of the drug stores. Stores that offer excellent school supply sales include drug stores (especially with free after rebate deals), office supply stores and big box stores. Each week I’ll post the best school supply deals on the blog so you can stock up now, even if your little ones don’t go back to school for more than a month.

Price match to cut down on trips to different stores. Target, Walmart, Staples, Office Depot and Office Max all price match identical items (same brand and size) so bring in the competitor ads and save yourself some time. Some of the best deals are on store brand items, which you won’t be able to price match, but there are always some excellent buys on name brand items like crayons and colored pencils.

Buy a few extra supplies for later in the year because by February, kids often run out of paper, pencils, notebooks, etc and need new ones. They will not be 10 cents during Valentine’s Day, so now is the time to stock up. February is when I go shopping in the storage container I mentioned earlier.

Hit the tax-free weekend held August 6 – August 8, 2010 in NC. School supplies with a sales price of $100 or less per item are included in the tax-free weekend. For all the details on items that are exempt from tax see the NC Department of Revenue website at the link in the box above. Make sure you still take advantage of the great buys going on until the tax-free weekend, though. You can't beat free after rebate items and 1 cent sales!

Don’t assume you need to buy name brands. Often, the brand name crayons, colored pencils or glue sticks are twice the price of the generic brands.

Let the kids contribute. If there is a particular item your child wants for back to school, but doesn’t need, let your child know that he can buy it with his own money. If he really wants it, then he can have it….at his own expense. If there is an item he needs but he wants a more expensive version than another one that is just as good, let him know that he can have the more expensive version if he pays the difference with his own cash. I have done this a few times with my daughter (who has saved every penny since birth – I am so proud!). It works beautifully. She usually chooses to keep her money and opt for the less expensive item that mom is willing to pay for in full.

Use your rewards. Many credit card companies and retailers offer rewards like gift cards and rebates when you buy qualifying items. You may be able to cash in your Visa reward points for a Walmart or Target gift card that can be used to lower your out of pocket cost for school supplies. On Sunday, I used my Staples Rewards from purchases I have made at Staples over the last few months to buy $55.00 worth of school supplies for 12 cents (plus I earned another $4.98 rebate)!

Hit the clearance sales after school starts. By mid-September, stores are marking down school supplies and that’s a great time to do a little more stocking up for later in the year and even for the next year.

Consider buying a few extra of the very best deals for those who can’t. There are usually a couple kids in each class whose parents are unable to afford their child’s school supplies. When you find 2 pocket folders, crayons and pencils packs for 1 – 5 cents, that’s a great time to buy a few extra to give to the teacher for those kids who don’t have any supplies.

The key when buying supplies is to only buy what you need and shop the best deals each week until school starts. With a little patience and a few extra trips, you can save hundreds, which you will need for the back to school clothes, sports gear and instrument rentals! Please share any other tips you have for cutting those supply costs.  As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!



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  • boomer3145 Jul 18, 2010

    Don't forget to sign up for email alerts from Staples, Office Max... They often include coupons like $5 off $30 and most stores will honor competitors coupons. Remember with a Teacher's ID they can get 25 of an item rather than 1 at Staples. We always gave our nieces/nephews "junk bags" for Christmas-garbage bags full of stuff accumulated over the year & always added tons of school supplies. Now they are grown & one is a teacher(can't find a job in FL)but is out there getting those penny items just in case. Don't forget it is going to be a tough year for the teachers & the kids so buy extra & give all you can. Sorry to ramble on-just got back from family vacation(ages 82-20) & had coupon withdrawl. couponing for a week.

  • kcampbell113 Jul 15, 2010

    We have 3 young children, 2 with April birthdays and 1 with a June birthday. In April I bought name brand 8ct boxed crayons for about .50 cents a piece at a party store for favors. This week I bought 30 boxes at .25 cents a piece and am going to store them away for party favors in the spring.

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Jul 15, 2010

    Thanks for the update on the cartridges, elliesmom. It's been a couple months since I brought mine in - too bad they lowered the $$. But you are right - good to get something back!

  • elliesmom Jul 15, 2010

    Thanks,Faye--love that you do this!! I checked with Staples and as of July 1 they have lowered the credit for ink cartidges to $2 (was really hoping I just heard wrong!). Still good to get something back though! To the moms who have kindergarteners, they will use those glue sticks for EVERYTHING--science worksheets, language arts worksheets, art projects and yes, math (they will learn to make bar graphs and will be sticking paper to almost anything to make their own graphs). Enjoy that kindergaten year!!

  • j3434 Jul 15, 2010

    don't know if this is the case here, but sometimes different kids get different lists, maybe broken up boys and girls, and are asked for different things to pool together and supply the whole class. thanks for the info, Faye! i definitely have to search my house first. i know i have tons of crayons, glue sticks, and pencils from overstocking on good deals last year. also, WHEN is rite aid going to get into the school supply game this summer?! i have $50 in transferred rx gift cards i was hoping to use to finish out some of our lists.

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Jul 15, 2010

    20 GLUE STICKS?! Per child? I guess they expect each child to use about 1 glue stick per week. You should probably make some room on your fridge now because you are about to get TON of arts and crafts to put on it. :-)

    happy - there is something rather enticing about 1 cent packs of pencils and free scissors. I totally get it.

    Elliesmom - I have been recycling cartridges at Staples for a while. I thought it was $3 per cartridge. Maybe they changed it recently. Your idea about the girl scouts is a great way to get the suppliles you need for the meetings!

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

  • dkg0502 Jul 15, 2010

    my daughter is going into kindergarten and they asked for 20 glue sticks! I thought it was a typo...but it wasn't!

  • HappyGirl08 Jul 15, 2010

    I love school supplies. I don't know why. I guess because I really like to write letters and mess like that. ha! I don't have any kiddos so I just have to buy my school supplies and pretend. haha Yes, I need these glue sticks ....LOL

  • elliesmom Jul 15, 2010

    I was at Staples getting .89 packs of markers (!) and found out that with my rewards card, they will give a $2 credit for each used ink cartidge you turn in. If you don't refill your cartidges, this is a nice stash to save for buying school supplies, especially if you combine it with loss leader sales. I'm thinking about asking parents of my girl scout troop to send in their used cartidges so we can use credits toward our supplies this year.

  • t0tAlChA0s Jul 15, 2010

    My little one will be starting Kindergarten this year. When I picked up her school supply list, I was suprised. They specifically asked for name brand and the put that in bold letters. 12 Jumbo glue sticks....really? Do they really use that much glue? I would be the first to help anyone else out, but I wouldn't be able to supply half the class. My oldest one only needed 4 when she started.

    Thank you Faye for this Thursday thoughts. Looks like I am going to need some really good