Saving Secrets: How To Save Money Buying School Supplies

crayola crayon

I remember my mother being hit with that little piece of paper once a year: the school supply list specifying discretely the ways your child will be ridiculed if you skip something, or worse, choose to empty your wallet on alternative items. I know, I was sometimes that child. I think a kid bit me once because I didn’t have a clear two-inch three-ring binder…or was that a teacher? In any case, the expedition to complete the scavenger hunt sometimes resulted in a last-minute, totally-fed-up expenditure. This store didn’t have it, neither that one; this store was out and this store hadn’t gotten them in yet. As my own kids approached this point, I started hunting down permanent solutions. Not just the less-hot-spot with great-prices to shop, but permanent solutions. I’d like to share what I’ve discovered.

The first thing on most schools’ lists is a backpack. The list I have in front of me requires a backpack for only four elementary school grades. (What was that noise?) Obviously, the frugal shopper would really, really like to buy only one backpack that would last that whole time. (Did you snicker?) The secret to a really great deal on a pack is to get one that is sturdy, with reliable zippers, bottoms, and straps. (Do I hear laughing?) There must be a consideration for changes in trends and fashions as well. (Okay, that is e-nough!) If you really want a trustworthy pack, shop at REI. No kidding. If the pack breaks, is weakened at any point, it is guaranteed to be replaced. Look here: REI Guarantee As for trends, I’m sure five bucks a year toward a patch of the new fashionable band, clothing line, or whatever it is that day will ease the mind of any child. They do love individuality, though they’re brooding in the herd mentality.

(Do you trust me now? Okay. Let’s continue.)

The crayons, markers, and colored pencils: There are two ways to beat the yearly shopping trip. In one, you have to shop. In the other, you need your friends. Your kids generally attend elementary school for a finite period of time. If you hit the $1 sales when your tot’s in kindergarten, grab six of each. The extras can fit in a Christmas gift box under a bed, or some other likely-to-collect dust location. Next year, pull it out and pack it up.

I actually follow the alternative to this approach. You can get a smattering of your fellow class parents and order in bulk. Here are the details. A normal box of 16 or 24 crayons is $3 average. A class pack from the warehouse store online is $43.72 for 832 crayons, or 52 packs at $0.84 each. A normal box of 10 water based markers is $5; from the online warehouse store $54.28 for 200 markers, or 20 packs at $2.71 each. A normal pack of 10-16 colored pencils is $2.50; from the online warehouse store, $30.56 for 240, or 20 packs at $1.52 each. Okay, so it’s a bunch of numbers, and shipping adds some, but basically the deal is a much better one. Zipper bag a set of each for each kid for each year the kid will need them. If there are significant leftovers, do some math and donate the rest to the church preschool or scout council, a tax write-off.

Other writing utensils – pencils, pens, and erasers – can be collected from banks and mortgage companies or bought in bulk. This is not a place to buy bargain brands because a cheap eraser will not perform to its worth, but a nice one will outlast several generations of graphite smudges. (That’s why those interest-vacuuming entities are good places to scavenge; they really don’t want you signing those forms with the cheapest available inks, do they?) A good place to find good pencils is the college bookstore, and if you shop end of the spring semester, you can find excellent clearance prices.

On to the paper products. I do remember a time when you could get a 200 sheet pack of paper for $0.50 at any back-to-school sale, but those days passed quickly. Now we must rely on our wit and intelligence. And the internet. I found a site that you can order 70 sheet spiral notebooks for $0.50 a piece, but you have to order a case of 72. (One notebook for each of six subjects for 12 years) Oh, that sounds perfect? Try Store Pulls. I’d recommend the same place for 3-ring binders at $1.50 or less each. However, there is no substitute for stocking up at the closeout store, start of season or end of season sale on loose-leaf paper and folders. I’ve seen excellent E-bay deals on loose-leaf, but those have their reliability issues.

Since things like scissors, glue, rulers and the occasional protractor or compass are all, in general, reasonably priced, I will go ahead and end with the great Kleenex caper. There is no beating the top-of-the-line germ-killing and lotion-bearing tissue. The most reasonable, and best, expense in your school budget as a conscientious parent is the provision of illness-prevention equipment. My school district, I heard today, has already seen a drop in attendance by half due to the first virus of the season, and school just started on Monday. Think of all of the red, swollen noses from cheap facial tissue; my face is beginning to sting from the thought of it. If the kids are staying home, the germs are going with them, and the parents staying home from work is the biggest expenditure of the school year. Well, maybe second to sports equipment.

If just one of these ideas has sparked your interest or put a smile on your face, my job is done. While you’re packing your kiddo’s bag this school season, hum a merrier tune, and know that the rush, the crowds, the hassle and the expenses are a softened memory. Hmm la de da dumb dum dum da da.

Image courtesy of laffy4k

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9 Responses to Saving Secrets: How To Save Money Buying School Supplies

  1. princessperky says:

    I’ll ditto the decent backpack..while I do not know of that brand I do know the pack my mother bought me (the ONLY pack) has lasted for over 5 years of school and the remaining years (I don’t wan’t to do the math, it reminds me how old I am….) sigh fine…19years…one backpack, 18 near constant use for all 18 of em (it is my diaper bag)

  2. John Jay says:

    For the past several years Wal-Mart has had spiral notebooks for a dime each during the Back-to-School rush (loss leaders?). They work well with pencils, but not with fountain pens (cheap paper).

    I’d be interested to know how much you could save if you hit the loss leaders at the major retailers.

    I agree that it’s very important to have high-quality pens, pencils, and erasers. For older children a pack of good mechanical pencils might be pretty cheap in the long run if they don’t lose them frequently.

    For backpacks, my family swears by LL Bean. I think the key to items like backpacks, umbrellas, etc (things that see frequent use and have a strong chance of breaking) is to pay a premium for a solid brand with good customer service. LL Bean sent me a free replacement umbrella after my old one snapped off at the handle in a storm.

  3. I wish I’d known about the REI guarantee before I shelled out $50 for that new messenger bag! Next time….

  4. Eitan says:

    It was fun reading and it made me want to go out and buy in bulk.
    too bad I live so far…

  5. JohannaB says:

    My daughter has been using the same backpack since 7th grade. She is now a freshman in college and she carries that backpack EVERYWHERE. I got it from a leather shop here in Topeka for $50 which I thought was outrageous at the time but now I consider it a good buy. Thanks for the post.

  6. Kim Moore says:

    Careful with the felt pens, often they dry up before they get used.

  7. Pingback: Welcome to The 134th Carnival of Education at : Education and School Issues, News and Analysis

  8. Rachelle says:

    Oh my goodness! I wish I was going to school. I love buying school supplies and this list makes me want to buy them even more!

  9. Lana says:

    I work at Walmart. Each season depending on the even say Fourth of July or Christmas, things say the same price. Then the day after or few days after they go to clearance. Last year, right after school within a two week period all extra school supply things were put in Garden Center Clearance area. And I’m talking about a Five Star notebook that may have been $3 was now $1. I would wait for the few weeks after and stock up on the things that have dropped significantly in price.

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