Purchasing School Supplies on the Cheap

by Guest Contributor · 6 comments

When I was a kid, purchasing school supplies meant getting a new notebook, a couple of pencils and pens, and a back pack. Today, you get a huge list of supplies the school expects you to buy for each child a few weeks before school begins. Have several kids, and it can be rather expensive. Here are a few ways that I’ve come up with to save money on buying school supplies.

Get Organized

Since the schools are now demanding everything from pencils to tissues, stuff comes home at the end of every year. Although they want new crayons, pencils, and notebooks when the school year begins again, you can reduce your purchases by putting away scissors, pens, markers, and highlighters when they are returned in the summer. Calculators can be passed from child to child or reused too, so don’t throw them away.

You also want to compile a complete list of all requested supplies. Then combine things. One teacher wants two dozen pencils and the other wants a dozen, you may be able to find larger packages of materials for less. Unless they specifically say not to purchase a particular brand, you can usually get away with picking generics. Recycle binders each year. Know exactly what you need before you head out the door. You can split up large packages when you get home.


Getting the best prices involves checking circulars and going to several stores. One store may have notebooks for a penny, while another will have a box of crayons for a dime. Compare prices in circulars or online before you go to the store. Set up your shopping list so you know what to purchase at each store and plan your trip logically.

Go It Alone

Don’t take your kids with you when you shop. It is much easier to hand out those ten cent WalMart notebooks to everyone when you return than to argue in the aisles with a child who wants the fancy Barbie or Transformers notebooks that cost ten times as much. You won’t be tempted to purchase more expensive supplies for their “cool” factor, and without a child to argue with the whole process is faster.

Shop Early or Late

Stores are trying to get you in as soon as possible to purchase those supplies. You can find some really good prices on loss leaders a month before school starts. The same is true if you wait a couple of weeks after the school year starts. Stores are eager to sell off whatever remains on their shelves and you can get some pretty good bargains. Keep extras around for stocking stuffers and refills later in the year.

Spend a Little More, Save a Lot

Now, I know that backpacks change each year and you can easily spend $15-30 for a pack every fall. The cheap backpacks don’t last and often need replacing before the school year is even over. This is one of those places where you should spend a bit more and get something classic. A high quality backpack like a Jansport or LLBean may cost $40, but they will last for several years; I’ve had a Jansport for more than 20 years without any rips or holes.

While we all need to get school supplies for our kids these days, there is no reason to break the bank in the process. Shop around, invest in quality where it is worth while and remember, they will graduate at some point so try not to be too stressed out over this.

This is part of the How to Save Money on Everything ebook that I’m putting together. It’s filled with tips on saving money like the article you see here and it’s free when you subscribe to the free frugal newsletter.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Clementine Isabella Sophie Florence Cecelia Marie Grace Emily Charlotte Smythe-Worthington says:

    Generic pencils don’t sharpen as well and sometimes the crayons are bad quality compared to brand named stationery. Like somebody said before teachers pay hundreds and thousands to kit kids out and teachers do have families.

  • ali gray says:

    Please do not keep markers/highlighters from the year before over the summer and send them in the next fall with your student. They will have dried out and not be useable through the fall semester – I am a teacher, I know these things. When you send in used items, I end up purchasing for your student so he/she does not feel “different” than the other students by having school supplies that are old and not useable in December.

    My budget for school supplies from the district is $135 for the year, yes, anything above that comes out of my pocket. Usually my contribution to your child’s classroom is right around $2000, the IRS allows a $250 deduction on my taxes each year. Please purchase new what you can afford, let the teacher know you will send more on such and such a date if needed, offer to purchase extra throughout the year for the teacher and help out in anyway you can.

    Public school teachers do not make what you think they make no matter what you read, trust me on this….if I made what I read I made, $2000 might not seem so much out of my budget! Do you know of any other profession that has a professional purchasing what they need to do their job out of their own pocket with no reimbursement?

    Just my 2 cents worth, as a profession teacher of 23 years.

  • Cd Phi says:

    I don’t know about you but growing up a new school year meant new supplies, which was always exciting. But you’re right- kids don’t necessarily need brand name school supplies. I’m guessing my schools were pretty lenient as they only required we bring a pencil and paper. It gets much more costly when your child goes to college.

  • Saving Money Today says:

    Great tips. I especially like the one about leaving the kids at home when you’re shopping.

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  • Smarter Spend says:

    You will be pleasantly surprised at some of the bulk discounts the larger office stores offer around mid August for school supplies. Examples are 10 spiral notebooks for $10 at Rite- Aid, pencils for 1 cent a piece at Staples, and so on.

    Buy a lot now for your kids, school supplies are always needed, so you won’t be wasting money.

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