Learning for Less: How to Save on School Supplies

July 22, 2013

Photo by meddygarnet, via flickr

As much as I dreaded going back to school when the long, lazy days of summer would come to an end, there was something about school supply shopping that I absolutely loved.

But I’m sure my mom would tell a different story.

I was always trying to upsell her, opting for the shiny Lisa Frank notebooks instead of the generic primary colored ones, even if the price difference was a whopping 75% or more. She knew what she was in for it as soon as we walked through the doors of our local office store.

If your kids are out to obliterate your budget, try some of these money saving tips.

Shop Online

Your kids might be slightly disappointed that they won’t be able to make their selections in-store, but shopping online can save you a bundle – not to mention the stress reduction factor.

Sites like RetailMeNot.com offer coupon codes to cut down on your total bill, get rid of shipping costs, or both. (This coupon for Office Depot offers $15 off $75+ plus free shipping.)

Ebates.com allows you to shop for supplies while earning cash back (and a $10 gift card if you are a new member), and it’s completely free to sign up. You must shop at designated stores, but the idea is akin to racking up credit card rewards.

Sign Up for Store Rewards

This might not save you significant amount upfront, but the big-box office supply retailers almost always have a reward program. Office Max has MaxPerks (5% back in rewards), Office Depot has MaxLife Rewards (points on recycled ink, toner, and paper purchases and option to be upgraded to Choice Member status to earn points on every dollar spent), and Staples Rewards (5% back in rewards, plus free shipping online).

(Also, don’t forget about teacher rewards programs if you qualify. We have a full roundup of teacher discounts here.)

Signing up now could help reduce school supply costs mid-year, after things have mysteriously gone missing.

Clip (or Print) Coupons and Check Local Ads

I’m not a huge proponent of spending precious time clipping coupons with minimal value, but when it comes to school supplies, there are plenty of coupons that will actually help you save a significant amount.

Colorado Springs Bargains has a handy roundup of school supply coupons updated daily with new deals.

If you have a preferred retailer in mind, you can check their weekly ad online or in your local paper. Pair those deals with any coupons you find and the savings will add up.

Also, don’t forget to scour the web for manufacturer coupons – especially for big-ticket items. Some manufacturers are even on coupon code websites (i.e. Mead binders).

Recycle and Reuse 

Notebooks from last year might be full, but chances are the pens and pencils function just fine. Take inventory of what you have from last year’s supplies as well as what you might have just laying around the house.

For me, I know that I have a stash of binder dividers, crayons, markers, and half-used packs of lined paper sitting around just waiting to be used. Don’t buy things for the packaging – they’ll soon be unwrapped anyways.

Don’t Forget the Dollar Store

When it comes to school supplies, don’t discount the dollar store. There are plenty of items that are not worth spending extra on – i.e. lined paper, notebooks, pencils, etc. The more you are able to check off your list at the dollar store, the more you are able to save overall.

And yes, they do offer popular brand names (i.e. Sharpie) that you would count on at other stores – just for a lot less.

Buy in Bulk

This solution certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you have more than one child to buy supplies for, buying in bulk at stores like Costco or Sam’s Club is a viable solution. This is especially helpful if your child’s teacher needs classroom extras like Kleenex – stock up and divvy them between classrooms and your home.

Time Your Purchases Accordingly

While some stores might be slowly leaking out school supply deals, most say that the best deals don't appear until August when back to school shopping is in full swing. However if you have a college student shopping for a laptop or you are planning on doing some back to school clothes shopping, the time is now.

How do you plan on cutting school supply costs? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?