How to Save Money on School Supplies

If you’re a parent and you have school age kids in the house – be it preschool, elementary or college – you would have to allot funds for buying school supplies. The task of buying school supplies for the kids is especially taxing if you have kids who will attend school for the first time.

You’d have to look for uniforms, school bags, shoes, socks, notebooks, binders, and a slew of other supplies which are needed for school. So how can you save money when purchasing school supplies? That is what we will find more about here.

How Much Do Parents Spend on School Supplies?

Before dishing out tips on how to save money when buying school supplies, let us first take a look at how much parents are really spending on this aspect of raising their kids. According to

  • In 2011, customers in the US planned to spend $61 on back-to-college school equipment.
  • In 2013, the total US consumer expenditure on back-to-college school supplies is about $3.45 billion.
  • Despite the small budget of college students, their parents are actually willing to spend money on back-to-school supplies, considering it an investment. In 2014, parents expected to spend as much as $800 for school supplies. Those who are working with a smaller budget are willing to spend about half of this amount.
  • The most common sources of affordable school supplies are discount department stores like Walmart and Target. 44% of consumers plan to do their back-to-school shopping online.

In 2010, according to the National Retail Federation, the estimated amount spent by the average American family on buying school supplies is $600.  The cost has become higher over the years, especially for college students who typically require more supplies, in addition to room, board and other expenses.

The good news is that if parents are resourceful and are a savvy shopper, they can find ways to save money on school supplies whether they have one college-bound kid or several sons and daughters in different school levels.

Top 10 Ways to Save Money on School Supplies

To get you started, here are the top ten ways for you to save money on school supplies:

1. Make an inventory of the things that you already have.

To save money on school supplies, make sure that you will not overbuy. If you have just one son or daughter who will go to school for the first time, you might not have any supplies at home at all so you have to start from scratch.

However, if you have two or more kids who went to school before, you should have plenty of supplies still lying around. Some could be left from last year’s supply, or you could simply have overbought from your last shopping trip. Whichever is the case, it’s good to make an inventory first of the things that you already have in the house.

Check on your supplies room, closets, desks, drawers, libraries or study areas, or your home office if you have one. You might have a stash of loose leaf paper, binders, pens, pencils, erasers, notepads, crayons, art supplies, craft supplies or post-its. Complete the list and make it as detailed as possible so that you won’t have to buy anything in excess.

2. Make a list of the things that the kids still need.

Again, the key to frugal school supplies shopping is to not overbuy. This is exactly what you will be doing if you’ll go shopping without a list. Most teachers will send out a list of school supplies that your kids are supposed to have for the school year. For instance, you might spend a lot of money on craft paper when all the teacher requires is a complete set of crayons or oil pastel.

Or, that oh-so-cute pencil case with dozens of pencils inside could be part of your overbuying because the teacher only requires your kid to have one or two pencils. As such, it’s better to wait for what the teacher will actually require so that your kid can have a complete set of school supplies at the start of the year.

3. Know when to shop for school supplies.

Parents who are already experts at buying school supplies would know that the big rush occurs during the months of August and January. These are the peak times when the prices are not budget-friendly at all, so buying what you need after the rush is the best way to save money. School supplies would usually go on sale with 50% to 70% price discounts, which is a frugal way of crossing out the items that you need.

4. Use discounts and vouchers.

If you can’t help but join the rush of parents and students scrambling to buy school supplies during the month of August, you can at least save money by using discounts and vouchers. Sign up for newsletters where you can get online discount vouchers, or cut out coupons from magazines. This is a tried-and-tested way to save money on school supplies.

5. Shop at garage sales and thrift stores.

More than mismatched china, garage sales and thrift stores can actually be a treasure trove for cheap back-to-school supplies. You might even stumble upon backpacks, slightly used clothes or unused school supplies for a very low price. If you don’t have time to scour the garage sales or thrift stores in your area, ask a friend or a family member who’s also a thrift shopper to do it for you.

6. Get bulk discounts at superstores.

Small items like pens, loose-leaf paper, crayons, and glue can be bought in bulk from superstores. If you only have two kids going to school, ask a group of moms to split the cost with you so that you can save money on the individual price. You can even go shopping with the whole gang, pool your funds together and shop at stores like Costco where you can get school supplies on a wholesale basis – to save on the overall price.

7. Give your kids cash rewards for the items that they’re willing to recycle.

Due to peer pressure, some kids may not want their friends to see them using the same things that they had last year. But given a little incentive, they’ll be more than willing to reuse those perfectly usable binder covers, plastic envelopes, pencil cases, even backpacks. Aside from being able to recycle, you can save a lot of money in the process when encouraging your kids to use some of the old stuff that they have.

8. Save money on school clothes.

Does your child wear a uniform? If yes, you might not have a choice but to purchase new clothes for them, especially if they have outgrown last year’s school clothes. If they don’t have uniforms, you can save money by shopping at consignment shops and thrift stores. The good news is that these clothes are very easily outgrown so they won’t mind your spending a lot less for it.

9. Know which items to scrimp on and which ones to invest in.

Most kids would study the classic novels which are assigned to middle school and high school students. You can easily find copies of these at used bookstores or online, so you can save a lot of money. You can even ask relatives for copies of these classic books which they might not be reading anymore.

As for the other textbooks, ask the teacher if it’s fine for your kid to use an older, albeit automatically cheaper edition of the book. If not, textbooks are something that you need to invest on. As for the items that you can scrimp on, it’s usually the small items like pens, paper, pencil, crayons, art supplies, etc.

Which back-to-school items are worth investing in? You might want to invest in a good, sturdy backpack especially if your kids carry a lot of books and notebooks. Look for one with a warranty, so you can rest assured that it will last for the entire school year despite the weight that the bag carries. You can also invest in good school shoes which should be comfortable but durable at the same time.

10. Set a limit.

Finally, set a limit when it comes to your budget for back-to-school supplies. If you are on a budget, make sure that your kid knows that as well. Again, due to peer pressure, your kid might feel embarrassed using old things and supplies in school – but make them understand that if they are still perfectly usable, there is no need for you to buy new ones.

One way to give them what they want while letting them stick to a budget still is to allow them two special items. For instance, your daughter might want to have a shiny fairy-tale themed binder and a pair of jeans with a designer logo. You can allow them such luxuries, but limit it to one or two. The rest of the school supplies should be within your budget.

For parents, sending kids to school can be both a stressful yet fun time. By taking heed of these tips, you can save money on school supplies and enjoy the experience of being a part of your child’s education.

Oana Schneider :Oana Schneider is a published author located in Chicago, Illinois, who currently works for as a communication specialist and blog editor. She writes about lifestyle, family budget, has a degree in Communications and advocates for women’s rights. Her future plans include getting a Labrador and losing a few pounds.

View Comments (3)

  • I was home schooled for years, but when I went to school, we were always very careful about what we bought. I think organization is probably the biggest thing that can help you save money. For instance, it's easy to not realize you have 2 years worth of pencils and pens lying around the house, if you never take a moment to collect them all in one place and redistribute them to those who need them.

    Another things I wonder about is why so many supplies are needed? I think the schools really need to re-evaluate what is actually necessary and what is fun, but not actually needed for learning. So many families don't have hundreds of dollars to buy supplies. Why not keep it simple and just require pencils and paper?

  • It is a great time of year to be posting things like this, because children will be wanting to start buying things ready for the new school year. I think that it can be very easy to get carried away, thinking that they will need more than they actually do, when in fact most can get away with buying relatively little. So yeah, make sure you know what you've got already, and you should then find that you don't get to much unnecessary stuff.

  • I am entering my first year of college in a few weeks and have gotten all of my shopping done by the middle of summer. Most people want to go out and buy all new things when there is nothing wrong with what they already have, inevitably wasting money that could be better spent elsewhere. In my opinion, the parents also play a role in the black hole that is back to school shopping, as they want to buy any and everything, wanting the best for their kids. My mom wanted to buy me an entire new bed spread, complete with a comforter, memory foam pad, special pillows, and a vaporizer. What do I need that for? I don't even sleep with a comforter now and haven't for the past few years as I don't find them entirely comfortable. I do appreciate it, but the only thing I buy every year for back to school shopping is a Five Subject Five Star Notebook and planner.