Last Updated April 10, 2023.
It’s back-to-school time and for many families that means stretching budgets to pay for a seemingly never-ending list of school supplies. From books and calculators to computers and backpacks – the expenses can all add up! Here are some tips and tricks for saving money on school supplies and other items your children will need to be prepared for the start of classes.
1. Register for Back-to-School Brigade
Run by Operation Homefront, the Back-to-School Brigade is a program that provides free backpacks and school supplies to military dependent children at events throughout the country. Registration is required. Visit Operation Homefront to find and register for an event near you.
2. Assess What you Already Have
Did your child use only a few pages of graph paper in their binder? Are your children’s backpacks, calculators, rulers, or scissors in good condition and reusable? Do you have a hidden stash of pencils you bought on sale and never used? Perhaps your older children have items they don’t need that the younger ones can use. Survey your home and you may be surprised at what you already have on hand.
3. Wait for the “Official” List
Teachers sometimes include very specific items on their school list. Your child might really want those cute notebooks with the cartoon characters on them, but the teacher might request that all students have only a red notebook and a blue notebook. To avoid purchasing items your child’s teacher does not require, try to wait for the “official” school supplies list. Many schools post the lists on their websites, and local school supply stores may also have the lists available. If your child insists on buying something that is not on the list, you could agree to purchase one additional item, or agree to let them have it if they pay for it themselves.
4. Look for Loss Leaders
Loss leaders are those super cheap below-cost items that entice people to visit a store. The 1 cent pencils, 50 cent notebooks, 25 cent packs of paper, free after rebate items, etc. The store, of course, is hoping that in addition to buying those items that you’ll purchase more expensive items. To save the most amount of money, buy just the items on sale. Each week keep an eye out for loss leader advertisements and visit the stores that have the discounted supplies you need. It may take multiple visits to different stores but you can really stock up on some great supplies at extremely low prices.
5. Use Military Discounts
Combining back-to-school sales with a military discount can give you some amazing deals. Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores carry school supplies and offer military discounts. If you’re looking for a computer, tablet, laptop, printer, printer cartridges, or other electronic devices, equipment or accessories, keep in mind that Dell, Microsoft, Apple, Lenovo, Cartridge World, HP, also offer military discounts. Visit the individual websites or contact your local store directly for specific information about the military discounts available.
6. Buy Better, Not Necessarily Cheaper
A paper folder that cost 10 cents is not a bargain if it rips the first week of class. Sometimes spending a bit more for a higher quality item is worth the extra money. Kids put their school supplies through a lot during the year and the items need to be able to endure a significant amount of wear and tear. Consider purchasing a backpack that comes with a lifetime warranty, plastic folders instead of paper, and the most durable binders you can find.
7. Hold a Back-to-School Swap
Along with school supplies, all kids will need some new clothes. Turn saving money into a fun social event with a back-to-school swap. Invite a few parents to your home who have children the same gender but different ages and ask them to bring their children’s outgrown, gently used clothes, including any school uniforms. You can also swap accessories, books, school supplies, and toys. Enjoy time with friends, declutter your home, and receive new clothing for your children for free.
8. Go Social
Most large retailers have a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Follow and friend them and you may be rewarded with coupon codes, special offers, and advance notice of sales. Here are some stores you can follow on Twitter to get the latest updates:
Bed Bath & Beyond: @BedBathBeyond
Best Buy: @BestBuy
Office Depot: @OfficeDepot
Rite Aid @riteaid
9. Save on College Textbooks
Back to school supplies aren’t limited to the K-12 set. The big kids need supplies too. For college students, just the price of textbooks alone can send both parents and kids into sticker shock. To save money on textbooks consider avoiding the campus bookstore and buying used books online instead. Textbooks can also be rented, or rented and bought in an e-book format. Some websites that offer textbook rentals and e-books include BookRenter, Amazon, TexbookRentals, ValoreBooks, Barnes & Noble, and CampusBookRentals. Most of the book rental services will ship the books quickly through the mail – have them shipped to your home or directly to the campus — and will give you free shipping labels for returning the books at the end of the semester.
10. Buy Used
Savvy shoppers know that they can score some fantastic bargains by buying secondhand items. Expensive scientific calculators that are used but in great condition can be found on ebay and Amazon for a fraction of what they would cost new. Thrift stores and consignment shops can often offer a treasure trove of clothing. Many are brand name items, and sometimes you can find items that are new in packages or with their original sales tag.
Use these resources and strategies and get more out of your back-to-school budget this year. Happy shopping!
The information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice. You should consult with a financial professional to determine what may be best for your individual needs.
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