How to Save Money on Back to School Supplies


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
The new school year always brings with it a certain amount of financial stress. When the new school year approaches, we need to inventory the stuff our kids have, and decide what to get. I’m going to try and help minimize your own stress but giving you tips on how to save money when buying school supplies.

Reusing Items Doesn’t Mean You’re Cheap!

Before we start talking about back to school budgets and how to save on school supplies, I need to get real with you for a second. The best way to save school supplies will always be to reuse whatever you already have, whether it’s from an older sibling, or something from the previous year. It’s the best way because, well, you don’t have to spend on anything, since the items are already there.

But I know the desire to get our kids something new every school year is strong. We’ve been conditioned to always want to get shiny new things for our kids – I get it. But if you really can’t afford to get something new, don’t force it. There’s no point trying to put up appearances when you’re buying things you can’t afford. So be frugal, and know that there is absolutely no shame in that.

Think of it this way: when you reuse something, you’re not depriving your kids of anything – far, far from it! You’re simply setting aside money for the really important stuff, whether it be tuition money, or money for textbooks. So let me say it again: reusing items from the previous year does not make you cheap! Okay, with that out of the way, here are my favorite ways to save on school supplies.

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Buy Next Year’s Items Early

I noticed a pattern in our local school and office supply stores: a few months before the new school year starts, they hold these really big sales on school supplies. But weeks before the new school year, prices go back up to their normal prices. I can see why: a shop can stand to make lots of money from last-minute shoppers.

But if you have enough money set aside, you could stand to save even more money if you buy your kid’s school supplies a bit earlier than usual. Try to target the times when shops lower their prices. This bargain-window of time isn’t the same among all cities (to say nothing about countries), but any savvy shopper will be able to spot the times when school supply stores hold pre-school year sales. Keep an eye out for these sales, and buy the next school year’s items at a fraction of their costs!

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Check Out the Dollar Stores

Most of us head to the usual roster of stores when shopping for school stuff. You’ve got Staples, Walmart, Office Depot and OfficeMax, and many others. And for a good reason – those stores offer pretty affordable supplies (especially Walmart, which my kids and I love). But if you want extreme savings, you can check out so-called dollar stores like Dollar General and Dollar Tree. Those places, as their names imply, sell stuff at no more than a dollar per item! These places are usually well-stocked with office, school, and stationery supplies.

Granted, the quality of the items being sold may sometimes be questionable. But if all you’re buying are notebooks, pencils, pens, and markers, chances are quality isn’t really the main concern. These places also have lots of great household items. If you’re buying supplies for your kids, you might also be able to pick up some much-needed supplies for the house.

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Get Last Year’s Tablet and E-Reader

Most non-parents I know get surprised when they learn that some schools require their students to have tablets or e-readers for lessons. My kids just happen to go to a school that requires tablets. Now, tablets are already pretty expensive – my wife and I have a shared tablet – and giving my hyperactive son a tablet he’ll toss around makes me squeamish.

To minimize the expense a bit, we got him a tablet from the previous year. They’re cheaper than the latest model and, let’s face it, still perfectly functional. Last year’s tablet will be more than enough for my son’s classroom needs. If you need to get a tablet or e-reader for your kids, I suggest you also get them an older model. It’ll be perfectly adequate for their needs.

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Buy Stuff Online, When Possible

This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but sometimes old habits (that is, buying stuff from physical shops) can be tough to unlearn. The truth is, buying online is a way cheaper option. For starters, you don’t need to worry about the cost of gas and parking. You also save on time and the stress of heading out on our own.

But the biggest advantage of buying online is that it’s easier to find bargains. You can easily switch from one seller to another, looking for the cheapest option. And when you’re trying to make every dollar and penny count, the ability to find the cheapest option is a huge benefit!

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Repair and Reuse

And we go back to my original piece of advice. The best way to save money on new supplies… is to not buy new supplies. If your kid’s shoes are still in good condition, then by all means, let them wear it for another year. Same goes for pants, bags, or any other item that is still in good condition. And before you throw something out, check if they can be still be mended. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of sewing and cleaning to make something brand new again.

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Get Non-Branded Supplies

You’ll be surprised by home much branding (especially for well-known brands) adds to the cost of an item. I learn this when I found some generic notebooks and pencil cases stocked at the lower shelves of a local office supply store. Since then, I’ve tried to get generic items when possible. And the savings have been immense!

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