Saving Money on Back to School Supplies

by Merissa on August 23, 2011

in Back to School, Thrifty Living

Bulk School Supplies - Little House Living

Saving Money on Back to School Supplies

It’s that time of year again. All you seem to notice when you head to the store are the huge bins filled with pens, pencils, and notebooks. There seems to be a sale or a deal on all those school supplies everywhere, but how do you know what’s the best deal?

    • Watch for loss leaders at the office supply stores. These are generally found on the front page of the store's newspaper ad. If you watch starting around the end of July all the way through August you can get everything from pens to erasers for as little as free after rebate or even $0.01 - $0.10 an item. Most of these loss leader items will have a limit that you can purchase per visit but they are still worth grabbing if you are in town and near the store.
    • Don’t feel like you need to spend the extra money on brand name supplies or character supplies. The folder with Elmo on it might be cute and your little ones might be begging for it, but so is the pink one that you can decorate with stickers that you have laying around in your junk drawers at home. This would be a great opportunity to get creative with your kids!
    • Price match. Can’t make it all the way across town to get the deal you want? Both Walmart and Target (along with some other stores, ask about their policies before you go) will price match as long as you have the ad and they have the same item. That means you could take both the Office Max and Office Depot ad to Walmart and get all of the deals in one place and in one shopping trip saving you time and gas.
    • Watch for coupons. Around back to school time, companies like 3M, Bic, etc, will start rolling out some high value coupons. Often these can be matched up with a great sale to make the items free. Sign up for the periodic emails from companies that make school and office supplies to you make sure to get any coupons they send out, right in your inbox. (Learn all about couponing in my Couponing 101 post.)


  • Don’t shop during back to school shopping season at all, shop after. This is something you can do for next year or to stock up on supplies that you need throughout the year. Each year when I purchase office supplies, I always wait for back to school sales to end. Stores clearance out what they have left and you can get items for rock bottom prices. Last year I paid $0.02 per spiral bound notebook. I bought 30 of them! Think ahead and shop smart, keep bulk school supplies for next year in a plastic storage tote so they stay safe and dry. (I use storage totes for our school supplies.)
  • Set a school supply budget. Each month I have an allotted budget for school supplies. I can save that money for another month or spend it during the month I get it in. It's important to set a budget when shopping for school supplies because, let's face it, when you can get items like notebooks and pens and crayons for so's tempting to buy a lot! Try and set aside money each month so that you can do all of your shopping at once (and already have the money to do it instead of dipping into another fund) or use that budget like I do throughout the year when you find deals. Either way, stick to a budget! Here's how we put together our budget on an irregular income.
  • Check Dollar Stores. I love the local dollar stores! Most of the time when I plan a trip there I can find many things that we can use for school (particularly themed items for our preschool theme weeks or for our sensory trays) and they cost just $1 per item. (For inspiration, check out my post on $1 Toddler Busy Bags.)
  • Use the Library or Have a Book Swap. If you need several books for school this year, make sure to check your local library first. If you can't find what you need there, have a book swap! Share books with friends or with other homeschool families instead of purchasing what you need. If you are a homeschooler and use similar curriculum as a friend, they may already have the books that you need and be happy to let you borrow them! You can also check out Thrift Books. We've found many of our school books there for less than $4 each.

So watch for sales, shop smart, share, and price match to save time and gas. Most of all, have FUN back to school shopping! If you've got a budget and a list of what you need there's no reason for back to school shopping to cause stress. Enjoy this time in your little one (or not so little one's) life and use it as an opportunity to get them excited about learning through the upcoming school year.

Something else you might want to check out is our post on how we keep it all together. It's got some great Free Printable Weekly Planning Templates!

Do you buy bulk school supplies? What are your best tips for buying school supplies?


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Charity August 23, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Do you know when stores typically start discounting their back to school supplies? Is it sometime in September?


2 Merissa August 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm

I would say around the 3rd week or end of September, they bigger stores will start clearancing because they want to get the Halloween out!


3 The Backyard Farmwife July 25, 2012 at 9:09 am

I am addicted to buying school/office supplies! My kids hardly even use a fraction of what I buy each year, but I do it every fall… ;o)


4 Heidi Morgan July 25, 2012 at 10:45 am

We homeschool so I buy enough to last the whole year while everything is cheap in August.


5 James D. August 9, 2013 at 7:23 pm

And if you don’t like spending your hard earned money at Walmart you can take the Walmart ad to OfficeMax and Office Depot and they will price match as well.


6 Me October 5, 2013 at 7:13 pm

As a retired teacher and mother to two grown daughters, I have had extensive experience purchasing school supplies. All of the above are great ways to save money. For some items, it is best to purchase name brand (crayola crayons, name brand markers that won’t instantly dry out, etc.). For paper, the cheaper the better. Teachers often ask that each child bring a ream of copy paper. Be careful to shop those back to school sales at the office supply stores (held in July and August). You might pay less than $1.00 for a ream of paper as a loss leader, or pay $5 or more at an office supply, discount store, drugstore, grocery, etc. Finally, do not give your child all of his/her supplies at once. I have often watched children (these were 5th graders) use multiple packages of notebook paper, a whole year’s supply or more, by December. They are not using it for work, but for pictures, notes, drawing, paper airplanes, etc. If you send them to school with an entire year’s worth of supplies, they will be gone, for one reason or another, within a couple of months. In one situation (a low income school where some children brought in supplies, and some did not), we labeled everything with their names and distributed as needed. For those who did not bring supplies, I bought theirs using the methods described above. For paper, which tends to grow legs and wings to walk and fly away with, I collected all paper and passed it out as needed, if a student wanted or needed more for a good reason, they got it. I always purchased extra paper, pencils, folders, and other basic supplies before the year started. When parents and I controlled the supplies, the students had enough, even extra, for the entire year without having to purchase additional in January!


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