How to Save BIG on School Supplies

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I know what you’re thinking:

“Summer’s barely started.  How can I possibly think about back-to-school shopping already?”

Or maybe:

“I don’t even have kids in school.  Back-to-school shopping doesn’t apply to me.”

Well guess what?

Not only is it time for parents to start paying attention to the back-to-school sales that are just starting in order to grab the best deals for your kids, it is time for everyone else to take advantage of the specials on paper, office, & craft supplies that only come out this time of year.

With some forethought, patience, & persistence it is possible to get almost everything you need for just a fraction of what you would’ve normally paid.  Here are 5 tips that will make all the difference:

1. Make your list early

This step is more critical for parents of school-age kids, but everyone can benefit from planning ahead.

Figure out exactly what you are going to need for each kid in terms of clothing, school supplies, backpacks, etc.  If you don’t yet have a school supply list, you may be able to look it up on your child’s school website.  Go through your child’s wardrobe & determine which items will make it through another year and which need to be replaced.

If you wait to do this until the week before school starts, you will find yourself forced to buy things, regardless of price.  Planning ahead will save big bucks!


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2. Set a budget

Figure out how much you can afford (or want) to spend on back-to-school items, then commit to it!  Be up front with your older kids about what that budget is, and let them share some of the responsibility for sticking to it.

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3. Pay attention to the sales each week

Starting very soon, the three big office supply stores–Staples, Office Depot, & Office Max–along with the big box stores–Target, Walmart, & Kmart–and even the drugstores will be running back-to-school promotions each week.  Coupon matchup sites like Surviving the Stores and My Litter provide weekly lists of the back-to-school deals, as well as provide information on which coupons to match with the sales for even better deals.

There will often be quite a few “loss leaders”–super specials on a few items, intended to get you in the door.  This is where planning ahead will help you!  Pluck out the top deals at each store, make your rounds, & then begin checking items off your list.  Be sure to stock up on super cheap items like $0.25 crayons or $0.01 notebooks!

Still not quite sure how it all works?  Check out this video:

4.) Take advantage of the rebates

You will be able to get a lot of items for absolutely free or almost-free after rebate.  Last year Staples ran free-after-rebate promotions on printer paper almost every week for about 6 weeks.  I ended up with enough paper to last the entire year.

I also ended up with a free stapler, electric pencil sharpener, markers, cardstock,  several great software programs, & more.  (In fact this week Staples is offering free-after-rebate highlighters and photo paper, so be sure to pop in if there’s one close by!)

But here’s the caveat:  in order to save, you must SUBMIT THE REBATE!  The stores count on the fact that many people just won’t bother.  Take the time to fill out the rebate form (Staples Easy Rebates are my favorite–they only take a few minutes to submit online!) as soon as you get home, and then wait for the money to start rolling back in.

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5. Get creative

Summer is a great time to start looking for clothing deals as well.  A lot of spring and summer clothes can function throughout the year, especially for those of us here in Florida.  Shop the summer clearance sales for some great bargains!

If you, like me, need to purchase school uniforms, look for online bargains.  Old Navy and Crazy 8 both have some really great prices on uniforms and run a lot of promotions.  Be sure to shop through Ebates for cash back on your purchases!

Another great option for saving on kids clothing is Thred Up, which is a collective online clothing swap.  You can browse through the box listings to choose one that fits exactly what you are looking for, then list your own box to exchange.

Consignment shops & thrift stores offer another option, and by shopping early you’ll be able to grab the best stuff first!

*   *   *

Ultimately, back-to-school shopping is a lot like grocery shopping:  the more you plan, the more you’ll save.  By breaking the process down and doing a little each week, you’ll be amazed at how much you can save this season!

I’m sure many of you have your own great tips as well!  Tell me, how do you save on back-to-school shopping?  Where are your favorite places to score a bargain?

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  1. sarina
    July 6 at 09:37PM

    Love it! Those are great ideas. Last year was my first year couponing for back to school and I was amazed at the savings.

  2. July 6 at 09:43PM

    Target has coupons for pens, Sharpies and binders!

  3. July 7 at 02:51AM

    It’s that time already? I can’t wait for CVS’ back-to-school items free after ECB’s! These items come in handy for school supplies, home office supplies, and for Operation Christmas Child boxes.

  4. Julie
    July 7 at 04:28AM

    Staples is my favorite! I teach kindergarten at a low-income school so I provide a lot of supplies myself throughout the year. Staples gives teachers a “teacher card” and with it you can get a class set (25) of the sale items. At least they did last year, I really hope they do this year. I never paid more than a penny for paper folders! And with a class of 18 5-year olds we go through a lot! WalMart and Target are great for the standard prices of crayons at .25 and glue but don’t bypass Staples and Office Depot! Any teachers who read this make sure you look up the teacher appreciation week/breakfasts at those two stores. They give great goody-bags and other companies come in with freebies too (ChikFilA came last year!). Those penny sales might have limits of 3 per person but that’s when you bring your family along and give each one a nickel to buy a set. It adds up quick and saves you from having to buy/ask for supplies in the middle of the year!
    I’ve never tried coupons with my B2S shopping so this year should be interesting. Thank you for keeping us up-to-date!

  5. shannon
    July 7 at 12:34PM

    Ruth! You’re so cute, I read your title and said…. BACK TO SCHOOL???? Already? Then read your first sentence. It reminds me of when we’re together and finishing each other’s sentences. Your blog is so amazing, just like you, my friend!!!

  6. July 8 at 04:08AM

    Thanks so much for this post! I don’t have kids, but all over NYC there are phone kiosk ads for Operation Backpack ( It’s a program that encourages New Yorkers to donate backpacks full of school supplies for homeless kids. It dawned on me that Staples (as you and another commenter suggested!) runs tons of deals for back-to-school. So, I’m going a) see when the donation deadline is, b) start clipping appropriate coupons, etc. now, do a beta test and see how much it will cost me to do one “fully loaded” backpack (including the backpack), and c) see if I can replicated it for less. Overall my budget is $40. I’m hoping to get 2 fully loaded backpacks (including the packs for that amount)!

  7. July 8 at 04:10AM

    FYI – there’s and Operation Backpack USA if you all are interested! (

  8. July 21 at 01:03PM

    If you want more back-to-school tips, you can read my post:
    I also put a link to this post in my #1 tip! 🙂 Thank you Ruth!

  9. August 18 at 01:36PM

    Great advice for what can really become a stressful time of the year. One minute we’re enjoying summer and then, BAM! it’s Back to School!

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