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Back to School on a Budget: 6 Ways to Save Money on School Supplies

Since there are no major holidays in August, it seems that once the Fourth of July has passed, all the stores start marching out their "Back to School" signs and sales. The seasonal aisles are full of notebooks and folders and pens and it’s enough to make both parents and kids groan. Summer has barely started, but here comes the pressure to get ready for fall.

Nothing can change the fact that summers go by too fast. But there are ways to lessen the pressure that back-to-school supplies can put on your budget. Following are a few ways you can save money on school supplies, both for the back-to-school season and throughout the school year.

1. Be Patient.

Just because the sales circulars say it’s time for back-to-school doesn't mean it actually is. You have time, so start by taking a deep breath and refusing to be pressured. The first back-to-school sales are rarely the best prices.

Another important reason to wait is to know for sure what you need. Most schools will send a list of supplies your specific child will need for his or her specific classes and teachers. Buying the wrong supplies costs you both time and money in the end, so wait until you know for sure.

2. Be Informed.

Take some time to shop around and get an idea of high and low prices for specific items. Don’t assume that a sign saying “huge sale” is telling you the truth. Use the internet to compare prices from the comfort of your home, or compare the sales advertisements that come in the mail. Advertisers are paid to motivate you to buy, but an informed consumer is much harder to manipulate. Do your homework.

3. Get Creative.

The folder with your child’s favorite character on it costs twice as much as the solid-colored one, but they “like it so much pleeeeeeeeeeeeease!?!” Consider getting simple, solid colors and letting them decorate it to reflect their personality and what they like. They get fun, unique folders and a creative project and you still save money on school supplies. Creativity for the win!

4. Think Outside the Box.

Why not check your local secondhand store? It's not uncommon for people to donate leftover office supplies. You might also find great deals shopping online, even from your favorite brick-and-mortar stores. Just be careful to avoid extra shipping costs, and consider the price of gas as you shop around. Spending $5 to save 50 cents on pencils isn’t a savings at all.

5. Work Together.

Buying in bulk is often cheaper per notebook or pen, but could lead you to spend more on quantities you just don’t need. Chances are you know other parents who are also shopping for school supplies this season. Shopping together could allow you to buy in bulk without the excess.

6. Know your Child.

Some kids tend to lose two pencils a day. Others will use the same pencil until it has been sharpened into a tiny nub that can barely be held. For the first child, you might need to buy a big box of the cheapest quality pencils you can find. For the second, maybe a nice mechanical pencil and a package of refills might be a better investment. If your child likes to stuff folders violently into his backpack, then maybe a heavy duty folder will save you from buying a new folder in February, when they're no longer on sale. A child who is more gentle might be just fine with a lower quality folder that costs a lot less. Cheaper quality doesn’t always save you money in the long run, so adapt to the needs of your child.

Fall is on its way and you can give your kids a great start to the new school year without breaking the bank. Until then, enjoy the rest of summer!

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