8 Strategies for Saving on School Supplies (or anything else you want to buy)

Back to School for Less than $5

Yesterday I told you about buying all of my 1st grader’s school supplies for just over $5.  I promised to come back today and share my best tips for achieving similar savings on your school supply list – or any other big list of things you need buy…. groceries for the chagim, gifts for your next birthday party, tools for a home improvement project — you get the idea!

No matter what you are shopping for, the steps are more or less the same.

1. Commit to a price. A few weeks ago I had mentioned on this blog that I wanted to spend no more than $5 for my son’s school supplies. I’m sure no one even noticed, but once I had publicly declared that goal, I was much more motivated to stick to it.

Whether you’re shopping for school supplies or new kitchen cabinets, set a price goal and commit to it. Instead of feeling limited by a meager budget, you might just enjoy the challenge. I know I did!

2. Make an exhaustive must-buy list. For school supplies, it’s easy – you just print off the list from the teacher. But if you want to save big on another type of venture, start by making a comprehensive list of everything you need.

No more running out haphazardly for one or two things, thirty billion times. The more intentional you can be about your shopping, the more likely you are to get what you need – at the price you want.

3. Read the circulars and know the sale cycles. School supply deals start in mid July and run through the month of August. So I knew that starting in July, I would have to be on the lookout for good deals on my must-buy list.

If you’re shopping for other items, you may want to check out this handy chart from Consumer Reports of what goes on sale when. It tells you the best time to buy everything from lawn mowers to GPS systems to bed linens.

4. Know what your “buy now” price is. Just because a store advertises a sale on Magic Markers, doesn’t mean it’s actually a good deal! The only way to know for sure is to keep a price book – or to have a steel trap for a memory.

If you’re a visual person like me, you may want to quickly flip through the circulars with a Sharpie in hand. Circle the products that are on your list, and then make a note of the cheapest price in your price book. This information can help you now — and the next time you need to shop for similar items.

5. Don’t be afraid to shop at more than one store. I know, I know: Time is money. And so is the gas to run around between different stores. But if you want to get the best price on a number of different items, you probably aren’t going to be able to do it all at one store. In order to save time and gas, while still buying from multiple stores, I try to shop at geographically close stores in the same errand run.

6. Think outside the (big) box (stores). Whether you are looking for school supplies or another big list of items, don’t forget to check the drugstores and grocery stores. As you can see from my post yesterday, a number of my best school supply deals came from Walgreens.

I know it seems like pencil boxes and glue would be far cheaper at Walmart, but with register rewards, door buster sales and, of course, coupons, Walgreens was a better deal for me. If finding drug store deals is confusing to you, please check out my How to Shop at CVS tutorial.

7. Be patient. If I had needed to buy all of my son’s school supplies in one day, or even one week, I would have gotten killer deals on a few items — and really blah deals on most everything else. Getting the bargain bottom price means shopping door busters sales and clearance racks. Since I had about 5 weeks to gather my son’s school supplies, I knew I could bide my time until the next item on my list hit its magic “buy now” price. When it comes to bargain shopping, patience truly is a virtue!

8. Stock-up. When prices are too good to be true, it’s okay to buy in bulk. If you saw yesterday’s post with my list of school supplies, you may have noticed that I plucked a few items right off the shelves of my very own office supply stockpile.

I replenished some of that supply during this year’s back-to-school sales. For example, I bought six spiral notebooks for 1¢ each at Staples. Two of them went with my son to 1st grade, and the rest joined my office supply stockpile. Likewise, I got copier paper for 1¢ (after rebate) from Staples and free ballpoint pens at Target. As long as you have the room in your budget (and your home, to store the items), stocking up now is a great way to lower your costs later on.

Finally, allow me leave with you this parting thought: By following these steps, I paid just $5.59 for my son’s school supplies, which, according to my calculations, is 1/7th of the retail price. If you could save 85% on everything you needed to buy, wouldn’t the effort be worth it?

So, tell me: Do you have a strategy for shopping for school supplies or any other big list of items? I’d love to hear about it!

I’m linking this post up to We are That Family’s Works for Me Wednesday. You can check out loads of other great ideas and life hacks there.


  1. Funny thing happened to me that illustrates the “think outside the big box” point. Someone else’s receipt got into my bag at Walmart that had been shopping for school supplies. I got to compare what I paid for items vs. what the supposedly “rock bottom” Walmart price. Crayons and Markers? I got those for free vs. $0.40 to $1.00. Notebook paper? Got it as a loss leader at Walgreens for $0.39 vs. $0.75. Planners? I got mine for $2.99 on sale at Walgreens (thanks RivkaH.!) vs. $6.49. Pens? Free vs. $1.49. Highlighters? Free. This person seemed to be shopping 3 kids and spent $126.00, no backpack or anything, just paper, pens, crayons, etc. I was not good of keeping a total of everything I spent, but I made this a summer long project and know I saved a ton. Funny thing is, I’m sure last year I would have thought $126 was great!

    Next year I must keep track of what I spend total.

  2. Normally i spend like $50 on school supplies!! I dont think $5.00 is realistic

  3. i actually spent under 7.00 for half of my sons’ (2-1/2 and 1-1/2) school supplies for from pre-k to 5th grade just in this years BTS sales, of course i did in multiple trips/transactions. notebooks, pencils, cap erasers, filler paper, copy paper, colored paper, markers, pens….etc… all i wait is BTS sales.. i dont know about others but i love BTS sales!! ehehe 😀

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