How to Save on Back to School Purchases

The Problem

Does anyone out there have any ideas on reducing back-to- school expenses? I have a third grader and a kindergartner. Both need backpacks, notebooks, crayons, etc., not to mention shoes and clothes!

I have their supply lists, and things are coming on sale now. I also shop at the second hand store, which helps a lot. Any other help would be appreciated!

Needs vs. Wants

...first sort out needs from wants. I try to explain to the kids that the things that they want will go on sale when there is no longer such a demand. Since I buy on sale all through the year, I don't need to buy into the back to school philosopy. We just buy a few new clothes on sale and try to get lots of school supplies for the year because this is the best time to buy that. Also banana and carrot muffins don't take much time to prepare and big batches can be frozen. Also pudding can be made at home and put into snack size containers. Its worth buying small containers to give variety like raisins, apricots, chopper veggies and dip and your imagination is the limit.

Notebooks and Backpacks

Sometimes offices have many 3-ringed notebooks that go unused and are eventually thrown out to make way for new notebooks. My husband's office is like this. The notebooks have the name of a client on them and when the business with the client is finished they have no need for the notebooks any longer and they end up in the dumpster. DH takes them, with permission ofcourse, before they hit the trash. It wouldn't hurt to ask around and see if someone you know is in a similar situation. If youi find them and the kids rebell because they are just "too ugly" to use, a denim cover is easy to make. Pattern it after the kind of grocery bag book covers we used in the "old days". The kids could decorate the covers with fabric paint, patches or whatever.

If you find that your kids go through back packs yearly, an investment of high quality packs may save you money in the long run. Sure they won't be Space Jam or whatever is popular this year, but you're probably teaching your kids that this kind of thing isn't important anyway so that's not a big deal. I looked at the plastic packs on sale in some of the local department stores and was rather shocked at the poor quality. However, if they don't last because due to mistreatment (being dragged on the ground, written all over and poked with pencils and pens, etc.) I'd suggest making them earn the money for next year's pack and supplies.

Quality Pays

First, on backpacks - I felt that my kids were just wanting to be trendy when requesting a certain brand of backpack [Jansport]. I refused to spend the $30 x 3 kids. When we moved and they had to change schools mid year I relented and bought them as a sort of consolation gift because I felt bad for them. Well, lo and behold - those backpacks take a beating!! They have been using the same ones for 2 1/2 years now. And not only for school, but for travel, sleepovers, going to the beach, etc. I've washed them in the machine, etc. and not had a problem at all. I just don't usually machine dry them. The only problems I've noticed as they get older are zipper problems. Since the packs come with a lifetime guarantee I guess I will contact the manufacturer and see how I should go about returning them for replacements if the zippers become too problematic. If you have a Costco in your area they had these packs priced at $19.99 two weeks ago! That is a 33% savings over the regular retail store price. I even offered my daughter a new one, [in a very unfrugal move]; she had written on hers and I thought it looked messy. I figured at that price, why not? But the frugality in her won out and she declined my offer. What a good kid!!

Also, this may not save during back to school season, but it will save all year long. During the back to school sales, stock up on supplies at very, very cheap prices. Local stores here are offering filler paper for .38/200 sheets, 1 subject notebooks 4/$1, etc. During the school year these items must be replenished, and you won't find yourself spending more than you wanted to for last minute replacements when there are no longer any sale prices.

Just Wait

All of the discount stores in our area are now running their back to school 'sales', but we pass them up. If you look closely at the supplies list, you will find that only a few of the items are needed at the start of school, most if not all of which you can supply from home (1 pencil, a note book, etc), as most real work doesn't start for a couple of days as they distribute books and such.

After school starts, go back to the discount stores and purchase during the clearance sale. You might not get first choice of colors and styles, but yellow pencils write just like florescent ones and paper is paper.

Garage Sales

Garage sales are an excellent place to buy back-packs and other back-to-school items. Dollar Days-type sales are good for note books, crayons, etc.
Becky Mc


Make sure everyone knows that you will accept ALL handmedowns. Don't complain if you get some trashy stuff or stuff you don't want. You can easily throw it away, donate it to Goodwill, or sell it at the consignment shop. Sometimes people are afraid you might be insulted to get used stuff. My daughters and I love it!
Burn in FL

From an Experienced Mom

As a parent, I have had many years of experience with the annual purchases of back-to-school supplies and clothes. I offer several suggestions to "S" and others readers who have similar concerns.

School Supply Purchase Tips:

  1. Watch the discount stores sale flyers and shop weekly if you can. The major discount stores feature school supplies from the end of July through the end of August. Guesstimate how many of each item your children will need for the entire school year (if the budget will allow).

    As the items go on sale, purchase enough folders, markers, paper, crayons (2 boxes of crayons for each elementary school child is my recommendation), etc. to last for a school year. You will be amazed at the price difference (and the possible lack of availability) if you have to purchase replacement items during the year.

  2. Office supply chain stores are a great source for pencils and pens. Stock up here as well. Their prices remain steadier throughout the year, but it is nice to have a stash at home.

  3. I have found the warehouse stores to be another good source for school supplies. IF you are a member of one, check their prices and compare. A box of poster board is an annual must on my school supply list. Buying in bulk saves time and money. No last minute trips to the store when your child suddenly remembers that they need to make a poster for school.

  4. Keep your extra school supplies organized in one location, to avoid the "Where did I put it?"s, when the need for the item arises. Also, inventory your unused supplies from the last school year, before purchasing new items this year.

  5. Invest in a quality backpack for each child when they begin elementary school. I am partial to L.L. Bean's quality (no affiliation - just a satisfied customer). We are beginning year number 6 for my youngest child's backpack. To aid in identification, spend the few dollars extra to monogram their initials (NOT their first name - for stranger-danger safety reasons!) on it. I usually replace each child's backpack when they advance to middle school, and then again when they enter high school.

Clothing Purchase Tips:

  1. Begin your back-to-school clothes shopping in your children's closets and drawers. In early August, I often hold a "try-on" morning for my children. They have to try on all their clothes, determine which still fit, which items they still like, and then pass down the clothes that did not fit to a younger sibling. Then together we determine what their clothing needs are to begin the school-year and make a list.

  2. Start your childrens' clothes shopping at yard sales or resale shops. Remember children often outgrow their clothes before they wear them out, and you can often find good values in children's clothes by buying used clothing. However, check the clothing items carefully for stains, rips, loose hems, missing buttons and working zippers before you buy. You may be able to make a big dent in your child's clothing needs by shopping resale and then supplementing with "new"...purchased "on sale", of course.

  3. Take your child along with you to shop for their clothing if possible. No clothing item is a bargain if it is just going to sit in the closet unworn.

Sari S

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