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How to Save Money on Back-to-School Supplies

Updated on July 16, 2019
LindaSarhan profile image

Linda Sarhan has been a freelance writer and researcher for 20+ years and has a B.A. in English and creative writing.


Every July a frenzy begins trying to get children ready for returning to school or college students ready for the fall semester. Unfortunately, in today's age money is tight, so people are trying to find a way to save money on the increasing cost of school supplies.

Most stores have school supplies on sale during the month of July so this is a great time to stock up on the basic supplies. Most students will need supplies replenished throughout the year. This is a good time to buy enough notebook paper, spiral notebook, composition notebooks, pen, pencils, crayons, glue, and so on.

Take some time to plan a strategy. First, get out your student's school supply list and consider doubling or tripling up on some of the items. Look through sales flyers to find the best deals. Although $0.99 for a spiral notebook sounds like a deal, some stores, such as Wal-Mart, tend to have spiral notebooks for $0.19 - $0.30 each. So even if you stocked up by buying ten spiral notebooks may only cost you the cost of one when the sale is over. Also, check to see which stores will price match so that you can save on gas by getting everything in one place.

If you find that the store is out of an item that is an amazing deal, consider asking about a rain check. By doing this, you can buy the item at the sale price later even if the item goes back to regular price when it comes in.


Do you tend to overstock on school supplies each year?

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Tax-free Days

Many communities have a period of time between July and August where they lift any and all tax on school supplies. This is another great way to save. Taxes can add up quickly, so buying during this time will save you even more money. To find out if your community participates in the tax-free period you can either call your local news station or retailers.

Stocking Up

By the end of August, these basic school supplies are generally sold at regular price that can be up to ten times the cost as they were sold for in July. From September to June several school supplies become hard to find such as graph paper, school boxes, pencil holders, lunch boxes, protractors, and more.

For many students starting the second semester with brand new supplies helps keep them focused. Some students may start the year with good grades and organization, but some dwindle down toward the middle of the school year. Giving them a fresh set of supplies to start the second semester after winter break could give them a good running start again just like at the beginning of the school year. So double up on school supplies intended to be sent to school.

As a general rule, it is good to have a set of school supplies to use at home. This helps eliminate homework excuses by not having paper, pen, pencils, crayons, glue, and so forth. This also lightens the load to and from school when students don't have to bring these school supplies back and forth from school.

Non-profit Organizations

Some cities have non-profit organizations that accept school supply donations. Consider checking with your local area to see if there are any organizations with this option. If you aren't sure where to look, you could always call your local news station or check with your school district for a list of local non-profit organizations that participate in school supplies assistance. Some of the more predominant organizations include the YMCA, United Way, UNICEF, and the Salvation Army. You can also check with your local churches as well.

Keep in mind that most work on an income-based need. So be expected to fill out forms and show proof of income. Most back-to-school supply programs also tend to be first come first serve so don't wait until the last minute to get on their list.

Reuse and Recycle

Although studies show that students do better academically with new school supplies, consider reusing or recycling old school supplies from the previous year. Perhaps reuse 3-ring binders if still in good condition. Rulers, protractors, compass, pencil boxes/bag, and calculators can also be reused the next school year. Take any old pencils, pens, erasers, markers, crayons, glue, etc. and reserve them for home use. Even the unused portions of old spiral notebooks can be used as scratch paper.

When it comes to book covers, there are a few ways to save money on those. You could decide to invest in the stretch book covers and have the student reuse them each year. Brown paper bags make great book covers and allow your student to be artsy and creative. Some butcher shops will even give you butcher paper for free or at a low rate if you ask. Students can even use sturdy wrapping paper to give their textbook a little flair.

Backpacks and lunch bags/boxes are other great items that may be reused. Consider investing in a sturdy backpack that is designed to last. Lunch bags and boxes can be cleaned out and freshened up to use year after year. Consider buying lunch bags that will grow with the child over novelty-themed lunch boxes. However, please note that there is mold present, consider just buying a new one for the health of the student.

Tips on Saving Money for School Supplies

If buying this many school supplies at one time puts a strain on your monthly budget, consider other ways to save for this time all year round. Many people tend to take their coin change for granted, especially pennies. You will be surprised how much money the average person throws away in coins each year.

Start a jar strictly for school supply money. Each time you receive coin change, put it in the jar. You could also determine how much you could afford each month to put in the jar. This could be $5.00, $10.00, $20.00. Be sure to keep the jar in a safe place so you won't be tempted throughout the year to dip into it.

If the idea of having a jar of cash in the house all year round doesn't settle well with you, consider opening a separate savings account. Ask your bank for coin rolls and save only enough coins to roll and then deposit them. By opening a savings account, you may earn interest on the money you keep in the account. Check with your local bank on the interest rates.

In a nutshell, the best time to buy school supplies is July. However, you will need to buy supplies in large quantities to avoid paying higher prices during the rest of the year.

© 2014 L. Sarhan


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