7 Ways to Save Money on School Supplies

It's almost back to school time, and this list has 7 quick ways to save money on school supplies. It's a great help for all Moms!

As a teacher and frugal shopper, school supply shopping is one of my favorite times of year. I love finding great deals that help me get ready for the upcoming year. I still remember the excitement of being a student and picking out the color of notebooks I wanted for the year. No, we never purchased the character notebooks. Mom was too frugal for that! Those $0.05 notebooks (at the time) worked just fine.

Moms, I know it can be overwhelming looking at school supply lists, especially if you have several children. I also know the bills seem to add up quickly at this time of the year with new school clothes / uniforms, new shoes and new school supplies. Still, there are many ways to save on these bills, especially on school supplies. Here are 7 handy tips I’ve learned about saving on school supplies.

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1. Start early.

Please don’t wait until the weekend before school starts to do your shopping! The sooner you start shopping, the more money you will save. Starting early gives you time to compare deals and find the best deals. The school sales now start mid-July so start watching for them at all your local stores!

2. Read your school supply list carefully.

As a former teacher, please know that teachers prepare supply lists carefully. When we specify a brand or a quantity, we do have a reason for that. Unless you really can’t find a brand, please don’t substitute something else. (See point 6 below.) Pay attention to the details on the list. Are the markers supposed to be thick or thin, washable or permanent? Are the boxes of crayons supposed to be 24 count or 48? Is it one glue stick or three?

Then, if you are shopping for multiple children, I suggest compiling all the lists into one master shopping list. It is easier to read on one list that you need 4 boxes of markers, 8 glue sticks and 10 spiral notebooks, compared to flipping through four different lists looking for each item. A little bit of extra prep work will save you a lot of time in the store!

3. Watch the sales.

This is key to saving money on school supplies. School supply sales used to begin in August, but now we are seeing them start mid-July. Check your ads every week to see what the store sales are. Don’t get a newspaper? You can easily view the ads online. I’d recommend watching the sales at your local grocery store (like Meijer), Target, Office Depot / Max and even Walgreens. Remember that the sales change weekly so to maximize your savings, start now by buying only what is on sale. Next week, check more things off the list when you see different sales.

4. Shop around.

It is very similar to grocery shopping. To save the most, you need to be willing to shop around. Run into Target and pick up those couple good deals and stop by Walgreens on the way home for a couple more. If you don’t want to mess around with different stores, Walmart will generally have the lowest prices across the boards – although no big sales.

5. Compare sizes.

It’s important to look at what the sales are and compare the sizes – as well as the prices. Just because something is $0.25 doesn’t always mean it’s a better deal. Sometimes, the $0.50 item will get you three times as much, so pay attention to sizes. Yes, that’s true of grocery store shopping as well!

6. Invest in quality.

Rose Art markers will never compare to Crayola. Crayola watercolors aren’t as good as Prang. Walmart brand pencils don’t even come close to Ticonderoga. Crayola and Elmer’s are the time tested brands that last. If you watch for sales, you can get quality school supplies for the same price as generics. Even if they are a little more, I believe it’s worth investing in the quality supplies. That said, paper is paper and 10 cent notebooks have the same amount of paper as the $1.99 ones.

7. Stock up for the whole year.

Finally, stock up on enough school supplies for the entire year. Even if the school supply list says 2 glue sticks, it’s good to keep some back-ups at home for when your son says his dried up. This tip is one of the most important ways to save because you can buy markers for $0.97 now or $2.97 when your daughter says she’s lost half her colors. Conservatively, I believe this strategy alone could easily save you $10 per student over the course of each school year. Pencils, spiral notebooks, glue sticks, markers, school boxes and crayons are all great back-up items to keep at home. Depending on the age and ahem, absentmindedness, of your child will help you determine how much to stock-up now. It will also save you time down the road because you can shop your house when your child suddenly remembers he / she needs a new supply right now!

One more thing to remember, there are certain school supplies that can be reused from year to year. I hope it goes without saying, but your child doesn’t need a new pair of scissors every year. School boxes, backpacks and pencil bags are often in good enough shape to be used for several years. At the end of every year, take a look at the supplies your child brings home and tuck away the ones that are still in good condition for the next year.

As you begin shopping for back to school supplies, I hope this list helps you save on your school supply bills! Do you have any other tips to add to this list?

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  2. Great tips, as always Kristen!

    Unfortunately in our district, they don’t send the ‘lists’ until a week to 10 days before school starts. They deliberately wait to cut down on the amount of people that demand teacher/class changes. That being said, you can still shop the sales and pick up things you know that they need year to year at the sales. Glue sticks, always, and if you put just a little water in the dried ones and put the cap back on, it will absorb the moisture and work again! (Although, not that day.)

    I always stock up on Elmer’s at the back to school sales to make “Gak.” Have you tried this yet?! Maybe within the next year, when Nathan is a little older??? Hours of entertainment for pennies!

    Happy Friday!!! Enjoy the weekend!

    1. Ugh. That would frustrate me to have to wait so long for school supply lists…but I guess I can understand their reasoning. You are smart, Christina, to stock up on things that you know will be on the list. Great idea to stock-up on glue now to make Gak. Nathan will love that! Thanks for the idea!

      1. We are homeschooling! It’s official, so no worries on the lists! Very exciting and we already launched! Off to a great beginning in a new journey!

        Thanks for praying with us too! It is a big change, but we can feel His hands upon us!

  3. Great tips! I always LOVED getting new school supplies, even for my kids, now for my grandkids and donations. Now I enjoy getting office supplies! LOL! One example of #7 – for one job I had, we used the 3-pronged pocked folders. Our office supply company charged us around $2.00 each….I would get them during back-to-school sales for 10 CENTS each. I saved my department quite a bit on those folders.

    1. That’s a great way of stretching dollars, to stock up on office supplies as well! Well done, Addy!

  4. Good tips! I also shop on the “sales tax free” weekend that varies by date from state to state. I’m making a list to shop when Texas has theirs!

    1. That’s a great idea to stretch your money even further. Tax free day is a big day in Texas! Unfortunately, we don’t have that up here in Indiana. Happy shopping as you make your list now and plan ahead!

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