Stick to Your Budget
Just as you would for grocery coupons, keep an eye out for special offers on clothes and supplies. Use mobile apps to compare prices and track sales, and never be afraid to negotiate—wherever you are. Always ask if there are student discounts available (you might need to show your child’s school ID to get such deals).
Know Where to Start Shopping
Last year, Family Dollar had two-pocket folders (regularly 50 cents) for a dime, and pencil cases, one-subject notebooks and other supplies cost $1 each. Staples is also known for its doorbusters: Last August, one-subject notebooks were 17 cents and 4-ounce containers of glue sold for 39 cents. (Bonus: Both Family Dollar and Staples have price-match guarantees.)
You can also find great deals at Walgreens, which ramps up its BTS sales between mid-July and Labor Day. During one week last August, the store had 23 items on sale—including binders (a BOGO promo got you two for $2.29) and Paper Mate mechanical pencils (a 10-pack for 49 cents). Walgreens doesn’t have a price match guarantee, but you can return purchases within 30 days for a refund or exchange.
Buy in Bulk and Split Costs with Classmates
Share bulk purchases and save. Dollardays.com sells kits with pens, portfolio folders, glue sticks and 150 sheets of notebook paper. A pack of 14 kits retails for $154 ($10.95 each). Dollar stores have stellar deals on Disney bulk products (which can cost 30 percent more than their non-licensed counterparts). At dollartree.com, we found a case of 24 notebooks with Mickey Mouse, Doc McStuffins and Frozen characters for $24.
Head to the Office Supply Store
Office-supply retailers have cornered the market on loss leaders—selling items at a low price to get you in the door. Last year, Office Depot had eraser caps and two-pocket folders for a penny each. You should also be sure to visit Staples the day before Labor Day. That’s when the chain (which became the biggest office-supply retailer after buying Office Depot and OfficeMax) holds a huge BTS sale.
Buy the Target Brand
Every item in Target’s exclusive Yoobi school-supply line sells for less than $10 and often beats out national-brand price tags. A Yoobi one-subject notebook, for instance, was $2.49. And for every Yoobi item you buy, the company contributes a Yoobi product to a classroom in a disadvantaged neighborhood.
Use the Buying Power of Your PTA
Some PTAs negotiate with vendors to get better prices for the entire school. Teachers submit supplies lists for the coming year, you order and pay for them via a link on the school’s website, and the items are delivered to the classrooms. You don’t have to shop, the kids have exactly what the teachers want, and the PTA, which charges a small fee, adds to its coffers. A win-win-win situation.
Consider Non-Traditional Sources
Discounts from such retailers as Toys “R” Us and the Disney Store will sometimes beat out traditional BTS sources. The toy retailer last year had a “buy one, get two free” sale on Crayola markers and crayons. Disney slashed the price of some items by up to 40 percent: An 11-piece Star Wars-themed stationary set including notebook, pencil case and scissors, was $8. Look for such sales during back-to-school season and at slickdeals.net and passionforsavings.com.
Opt for Less Trendy Merchandise
On average, back-to-school items emblazoned with licensed cartoon characters, logos and photos of celebrities can cost up to 30 percent more than basic buys. If your children are yearning for specific styles and brands, show them how they personalize plain items to make them special.
Visit Thrift Stores
“I love hitting up thrift stores for school supplies. Plenty near me carry donated notebooks, filing supplies, leather organizers, etc. I’m always amazed how inexpensive these finds are in comparison with new items at my local supply store. I also enjoy personalizing the supplies with embellishments, like washi tape, scrapbooking stickers and beads.” –Michelle Annesi, Mass.
Save on Required Reading
Score free downloads of the classics (such as A Tale of Two Cities) and about 50,000 other titles at Gutenberg.org. Skyo.com sells used college textbooks (which can cost up to $200 apiece new) for as little as $20. And textbookrush.com rents texts for 90 percent less than a spanking-new edition. Looking to sell your old tomes? The site buys used books for cash or store credit, and Amazon has a trade-in program that offers as much as 80 percent back for used textbooks.
“I watch for sales and frequent the Dollar Tree store. I also keep my eye out for free back-to-school and community events where they give out pens, pencils, rulers and erasers, which I keep in a see-through storage container for when those items get lost during the school year.” –DeAndre Rahming, Fla.