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7 Back-to-School Shopping Tips That Will Keep Your Wallet Happy


By Vicki Little

There was always something fun about taking your new school supply list to the store with dreams of Trapper Keepers and cartoon lunch boxes floating in your head. Eager students could spend hours browsing the aisles for the coolest eraser and the perfect mix of puppy and kitty folders. Back then, students would go home and carefully label their stuff with their nicest handwriting (until they got bored and asked Mom to do it). Times have changed, though, and it isn’t quite so important to pick out the perfect folders since your school might just jumble them all into one pile anyway. Here are some tips on how to keep your child, their teacher, and your wallet happy while buying school supplies.

1) Recycle what you can. My kids get to have a new pencil box OR a new lunchbox each year. Typically the pencil box is still basically new and the lunchbox is almost done, so they choose that, but at least I’m saving a bit of money. If you look at the extra pocket on the backpack, you are likely to find some barely-used pencils, scissors that are in great shape, or a perfect ruler that’s just fine for next year.

2) Follow the list. I know this kind of goes against the effort to save money on school supplies, but the teachers that ask for a specific brand are doing so for a reason. The brand names really do last longer — particularly the glue sticks. Halfway through the year, you will lower the chances of being asked to donate more stuff if you buy the requested items from the start. 

3) Find out if your teacher is going to compile all supplies. This is hard to do if you are new to a school, but if you have an older child or a friend at the school, you can ask what the grade tends to do. This could save you a ton of “but I like this color better” conversations, as well as the disappointment that the favorite unicorn folder is going to someone else. Plus, the generic colors are less expensive. The issue you may run into is that some teachers ask for very specific items, such as red and blue folders or a Crayola 18-pack of crayons. You might have to stop at more than one store.

4) Buy in bulk. Instead of the divide-and-conquer method, it is better to combine all the lists for your family and see what you can buy in bulk. Everything tends to be less expensive in larger quantities: Kleenex, wipes, pencils, paper etc. You may even get a few extra items for the homework stash at home or to donate to the teacher.

5) Compare the ads. You will have to pick what is more important to you — time or money. You may end up having to go to more than one store anyway, since finding everything in one stop is nearly impossible this time of the year. Typically each store has one or two incredible deals, then the rest of their supplies carry the same prices as other stores.

6) Shop ahead. That means look at the items for NEXT year, if you can, and buy them while they are on sale now. The lists tend to mostly stay the same, and you can get a good portion of next year’s shopping done at great prices.

7) Let someone else do it. This is the first year I have used Edukit (pre-packed school kits delivered directly to students in their classrooms), because I have a secret obsession with new school supplies, and I love going to buy them. I admit, though, that it is definitely easier and my teachers will get exactly what they want. The kids will still each get their own pencil box or lunchbox and backpack, and they get to pick out a couple of items for our “homework kit” at home.

Do you have a battle plan for getting all your back-to-school shopping done?


Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids.  A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, camping, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.

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