Back to School Lesson #1- How to Save On School Supplies

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Every year it’s the same for me. I finally realize school is about to start around…oh Labor Day and then rush to my local Target or Walmart to see a lot of empty shelves (damn you, you overachiever moms!) and then in a panic I load the school supply list from Amazon and vow to look for deals…next year.

Now I’m not knocking services like Amazon or ClassBundl where you can order the whole shebang in one place and have it delivered to your door. The convenience just can’t be beat. But if you are looking to save money, there are some easy tips that can lessen the sticker shock.

In one recent survey, 60% of parents report it’s challenging to afford back- to-school supplies. And consider this: when combined with activities like sports or band, the average family last year spent the following on school for ONE kid:


  • $662 for elementary school students — a 1% increase from 2016
  • $1,001 for middle school students — a 4.6% increase from 2016
  • $1,489 for high school students — a 1% decrease from 2016

You might be asking yourself, how did this get so…expensive? Now more than ever, dwindling school budgets means schools are supplying less and we parents are to spend more. Notice how hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are included in most back-to-school lists? Yup, that stuff used to be supplied by schools.

But there ARE some easy ways to cut your costs:

CLEAN YOUR HOUSE: Yup, you might be amazed at how many perfectly good crayons and unused notebooks you have left over from last year. My house is filled to the brim with erasers for some strange reason, and yes, I’d be happy to let you have some. Which brings me to…

START A SCHOOL SUPPLY SWAP GROUP: So you have a ton of loose leaf paper, I have all those above mentioned erasers, let’s make a deal and a save some cash!

CHECK OUT GARAGE SALES/THRIFT SHOPS/CONSIGNMENT STORES: You’re not the only one whose kid grows out of his clothes faster than he can put a permanent stain on them. You can also find gently used backpacks and clothes.

WAIT: This is one time when procrastinating can pay off. While you might find sales before school starts, Consumer Reports states that this isn’t the best time to buy a new wardrobe for your kids. Prices typically go down in September after the big clothes-buying rush is over. As for nonessentials like those Clorox wipes or tissues, wait. You should be able to cash in on clearance sales (sometimes finding stuff at 50-90% off!) after school starts when retailers need to make room for the Halloween stuff.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TAX-FREE SHOPPING: If you live in a state with sales tax – find out here what days are tax-free day and save some cash! Find the date (or dates) of your state’s sales tax holiday and determine item eligibility online. Most states have a sales tax holiday during the first week of August, although some have tax holidays in July or toward the end of August.

SEE IF YOUR STORE CAN MATCH A COMPETITOR’S PRICE: Target or Walmart will match prices if they carry the same brand that you have an ad for from, say, Staples or Office Max.

IF YOU CAN, LEAVE YOUR KID AT HOME: We all know what it’s like when waiting at the checkout and your son sees all the baseball cards or your daughter sees that super cool lip gloss. Multiply that a few times with backpacks and notebooks and colored pencils and…you get it. A National Retail survey found that 65 percent of parents said that half or even more of their purchases were a direct result of their kid’s influence. Keeping them at home should save you lots of money and tears (yours…and your kid’s!).

ABOUT THOSE EXTRACURRICULARS: If you’re looking to save save money on sports equipment, one strategy is to buy used. You can find used gear on SidelineSwap and can also sell your own equipment on the site once your child has outgrown what they’re currently using. Locally, you can usually find some great bargains at Play It Again Sports. In my town, we started a Facebook group to donate gently used lacrosse equipment like pinnies and sticks.

For music, you can save money on music lessons or band participation by buying or renting a used instrument. You can search on Music Go Round for used instruments listed on the site, as well as instruments listed locally in your area. Craigslist and eBay are also great places to look for used instruments.