Back to School days are right around the corner! Besides being "the most wonderful time of the year" when we parents get a little break for a few short hours each day, back to school time can easily become a time to hand over your wallet if not careful. I have 2 elementary age children and have done a lot of "field research" on this topic and found some time proven methods to my madness.
The absolute worst time to buy school supplies is in the two weeks just prior to school starting. Not only will you deal with crowds of other shoppers, but often the most common needs are running in short supply at that point. Nothing more frustrating than being 2 glue sticks short of a full load – know what I mean? Save this last minute kind of shopping for absolute specific necessities that the teacher did not reveal until school started.
Do your Research
All you need is a little time with your tablet or laptop to get this process started. Start by going to school websites and downloading their supply lists. Some will be very specific; others will be quite vague and leave you realizing that most details will come after school starts. Either way, it becomes your starting point. Often schools list the basic supplies needed, plus things they will need as classroom donation supplies, like tissues, hand sanitizers, etc. My best advice here is separate those two lists. It makes finding things easier and they will likely need to come from different places.
Use your Sunday newspaper sale ads or go to the individual store websites and see what's on sale and price compare. Most places have CRAZY deals on a few items – like 1 cent or 5 cents, etc. There is usually a limit on these items and/or a minimum purchase requirement. Keep in mind, however, if you and your children go shopping together, no harm in them checking out at the register by themselves. I once took my kids and gave them a quarter each. Notebook paper packs were 1 cent, limit 3 per customer. They were certainly paying customers and we were clearly following the rules. We each checked out with our 3 packs of paper, which was enough to last us all year for 15 cents!
Speaking of research, it is really important to get an inventory of what you already have and therefore DON'T NEED TO BUY! I am speaking from experience as a Mom with way too many of those Fiskar's blunt end scissors. Not sure why I didn't catch on sooner, but those things seem to NEVER wear out. Another example, the famous pink pearl eraser comes two in a pack. Without fail, one easily lasts all school year and usually makes it back home. That means there's another in the package somewhere that can be used this year. And, leftover supplies from last year that do show some wear and tear are perfect for your homework basket.
Kids wear things out. It's a fact. Will one 8 pack of crayons last an active young 5 year old boy all year? Are you kidding? It might last him the first month IF the teacher limits crayon time. So, while things are on sale for the lowest prices – STOCK UP. Those super cheap penny and nickel deals are also great for charity donations. Look forward to things like Christmas charities of backpacks, boxes filled with school supplies. Now is the time to get those items and be able to donate without breaking your budget.
And, there are useful things that won't be on any school list that you and the kids will need such as a good stapler, index cards, scotch tape, etc. These things are usually on sale as well. Also, planning ahead won't help you until after school has started, but look for the clearance of back to school items and save up for the next time around. It's easy to check all your regular stores on your normal routine. And don't buy just because it's on clearance…use all that research knowledge to know a good price when you see it.
Name brand or not?
Sometimes it is a necessity. Make sure you check the school list, because if there is a specific requirement they will spell it out for you. Glue comes to mind. Often I see Elmer's requested and something subtle like the words: NO SUBSTITUTES typed beside it in big bold letters. If they say it, they mean it and having a cheaper brand PLUS having to re- purchase the store brand is no deal at all.
Make a list for yourself of "remembers" and save it on the computer. For instance, I've only buy Crayola on art supplies. Pink Pearl on erasers and Elmer's on glue. It's a busy life, however, so just because I remembered that today doesn't mean I will next Fall. Make a list and update yearly.
Those "extras" on the list – Ziploc bags, hand sanitizer, and such hardly ever require brand name. In fact, I'd stop at my nearest Dollar Tree and see which of these things can be picked up there. The savings on these items alone is huge. Hand sanitizer bottle, for instance, large bottles - $1. The exact same size in a Wal-Mart type store - $3.29.
Involve your kiddos – carefully
Carefully being the key word, letting them choose $30 of coordinated desk supplies that are pretty, yet low functionality and not on any supply list is not what I mean by involving. It's important for kids to learn how this process works and to have to make decisions on their own. They can research, they can plan ahead, they can recognize traps, decide what is needed in name brand and not, and budget money.
At my house, my routine is to pick up the cheap supplies in an on-going fashion during this season. Basically, every time I'm at my usual stops like CVS, Kroger, etc., I get only the cheapies which are under $5 (usually way under
) per trip. My children can choose any of those supplies at no cost to them. Other supplies and specifics on the list, I expect them to pay for. They have an allowance and with that comes the responsibility of paying for some routine things – we chose school supplies as one of those. If they want the beautiful retro polka-dotted 1 inch binder with matching clips and bookmarks – they will have to budget accordingly. That has made a giant difference in their version of what is needed for school.
Happy shopping! Make it fun. Plan out a route of which stores to hit, incorporating as much as possible into regular routine. When we are at Target, for example, we always walk down to Office Max to hit the sales. You can make a game out of the savings and really let the kids take part. One year, we even put all our money-saved into a jar for a Disney trip (based on what we would have paid at full price
). We quickly had $200 in that jar! Kids love goals and positive reinforcement too.
Melissa Cox aka-Frugalissa is a wife and mom to 2 elementary aged children. Her motto is "Frugal does not mean I have to be cheap". She is into natural living, being green and tries to feed her family healthy, wholesome food while still couponing and saving a buck or two. She teaches workshops where she teaches people how to coupon, save money and make their dollars stretch. She is also an advocate for teaching people to give to those in need through couponing. She writes the blog Frugalissa Finds