One of my friends recently told me she spent over $500 on school supplies for her two public schooled children - not including clothes! I admit to being bowled over. I don't spend that on school supplies and curriculum combined for my two home schooled kids! Nevertheless, stocking up on basic school and craft supplies can take a chunk of change. I could easily spend $100 or more on pencils, binders, papers, and other common school supplies. But I don't. I can't afford to! And I know many of you can't afford to spend that much on school supplies, either - whether your kids attend public, private, or home school. Thankfully, you don't have to.
How to Get School Supplies for Less
1. Get supplies for free. Many businesses and local organizations give away basic school supplies. Typically, you don't have to prove what your income is, or fill out an application. They just give the supplies to your kids. In the past, I've avoided these giveaways because I felt others were more in need, but this year, I'm considering taking advantage of the offerings. Where can you find free school supplies? Often the local news will make announcements. Or your children's school might notify you. Or you can just ask around. Common places to get free supplies include churches and local businesses.
2. Take a half hour to compare prices online. I think the easiest way to do this is to search for what you need and drop it in your online shopping cart. When you're done, print out the shopping cart list. This year, I did this at Office Depot, Staples, Walmart, and - as an afterthought - Amazon. Printing the carts made it really easy for me to make comparisons and the "shopping" itself didn't take much time. (Incidentally, I found that Staples and Amazon had the best prices - plus free shipping!)
3. Consider price matching. Staples, for instance, has a great price matching guarantee (at the time of writing). Not only do they give you the item at the competitor's lower price, but they give you an additional 10% off for using price matching! On the other hand, price matching can be a bit of a pain. I don't get a local newspaper, so it would take some effort to track down competitor's sales flyers.
4. Consider buying at more than one location. This year, I'm shopping at Walmart, The Dollar Tree, and Amazon. I go to Walmart regularly, so that is no big deal. Neither is doing online Amazon shopping. And I have a Dollar Tree nearby. If I had to drive out of town for certain deals, however, it probably wouldn't be worth the extra time and fuel.
5. Start early. The earlier you buy, the easier it is to get what you need. Most stores that are going to have back to school sales are already having them, so take advantage of them now. If your child's school hasn't yet released a list of the supplies you need, you can still buy the basics you know will be necessary, like pencils and erasers.
6. Don't do it all at once. This likely won't reduce your cost, but it will spread out the expense, making it hurt your budget less. For example, do part of your shopping this paycheck, and the rest after the next paycheck.
7. Buy quality. Yes, you can buy binders for under $1. But will they last the whole school year? Probably not. It's better to buy something of better quality...and buy it once.
8. Keep it simple. Before you shop, explain to your children what the budget is. Then help them navigate what stores want them to buy (more expensive character backpacks vs. plain or patterned backpacks, for example). Not only does this save you money, but it teaches your children a valuable lesson in consumerism.
9. Reuse what you have. I know, I know, everyone loves fresh, new school supplies. But it's just plain wasteful to throw away last year's pencils if they are still perfectly functional.
10. Put your child's name on everything. This will save you from
having to replace lost items. (Even if you home school, this can be
helpful. This year, for instance, I'm marking my children's pencils with
their first initial to help prevent squabbling about which pencil
belongs to which kid.)