School Supply Challenge of 2012

I know, I know. Summer has just started for many of you. But believe it or not, back-to-school sales are kicking off this week in many parts of the United States.

Sales tend to track school openings, so if your area’s public schools start in August, sales at national chains such as Staples, Office Depot and Office Max are likely starting today. For those of you that don’t go back until September, you may not see the same sales start for another two weeks.

Since my area is in the former category, this is a great week for me to kick off the School Supply Challenge of 2012!

If you were around the last two years, you might remember that I have set challenges to myself – and encouraged you to do the same – to spend as little as possible for our school supplies.

In 2010, I got school supplies for two kids for just $5.99 after coupons, sales and rebates.

Last year, I spent just $13.39 for my kindergartner and 2nd grader – under my $15 goal!

In reflecting on those challenge, I put together this list of tips for keeping costs low for school supplies. Go read the post, but here are the keys:

#1. Use what you already have.

#2. Be organized.

#3. Start early.

This year, I have set a goal of spending no more than $20 on supplies for all three kids (my youngest is going to preschool this year, so she’ll have a few supplies, too.)

Looking at the list, $20 seems impossibly low right now, but I know from past experience that shopping the sale and using my coupons can net some impressively LOW results!

I’d also like to encourage all of you with school-age kids to join me in this School Supply Challenge.

You don’t have to set a goal to spend $20 – it can be more or less… whatever makes sense for your family and your list of supplies.

You just need to make it a bonafide challenge. If you know you spent $50 last year, aim to spend $25 this year. You might not make it, but one thing’s for sure – without a goal – and a plan – you definitely won’t!

In the comments section below, please share your goal for how much you are aiming to spend.


Here’s our school supply list.

1st Grade

1 Box Crayola Crayons, 24 Count
1 Box Crayola Markers Washable Wide Line, 8 Count
1 Box Crayola Markers Washable Thin Line, 8 Count
2 Plastic School Boxes (8 X 5 X 2)
1 RED Plastic 2-Pocket Folder
1 BLUE Plastic 2-Pocket Folder
1 Wide lined Spiral Notebook
48 #2 Pencils (12 for art room)
3 Black Fine Line Expo Dry Erase Marker
3 Pink Medium Erasers
1 Elmer’s Glue, 4 oz
2 Large Elmer’s Glue Sticks
1 Roll Scotch Tape
2 Safety Scissors (lefty for left-handed students)
1 Dry Erase Eraser
3 Boxes Tissue, 100 Count
1 container Clorox wipes
1 Wide Lined Spiral Notebook

3rd Grade

1 Mead 5-Star 1.5” binder with zipper closure
1 Pocket Folder with brads for Hebrew
5 Pocket Folders
3 Composition Notebooks, 100 pages
1 Packet Notebook Paper, wide rule, 200 pages
1 Pack Eraser Tops, 12 count
36 #2 pencils
3 Elmer’s Glue Sticks
1 Box Crayola Markers, thin line, 12 Count
1 Box Crayola Markers, classic colors, wide line, 12 Count
5 Highlighters, assorted colors
4 Dry Erase Markers, fine tip
3 Boxes Tissue, 100 count
20 Plastic Sheet Protectors with holes
1 Box Colored Pencils
2 Bottles Elmer’s Glue (for art room)


  1. Jessi Levy says

    Nothing for the pre-schooler? My oldest is starting nursery and we have to do 10 boxes tissues, 9 rolls papertowels, markers, glue sticks, bandaids, a plastic smock. I think using $20 for my ONE child is going to be a challenge!
    I will be majorly impressed to see how cheap you can get that zippered binder, those are pricey!
    And of couse, I can’t wait to see what kind of deals you score 😉

  2. Lauren Rosen Gerofsky says

    I want to share my experience in the last few years. I make my kids sort through all the leftovers in June and re-pack their school bags with what it still usable, including lunch bags, water bottles and gym clothes. We do not lose things this way. When it is back-to-school shopping in this area (Lancaster County, PA), our school district is the only one returning after Labor Day and so if we wait to shop, there is nothing left. I have used K-mart’s Lay-Away Plan in the weeks school supplies go on sale and have some time to pay it off before my kids need everything. Sales and a payment plan make it great for me. Not counting clothing, I think we were under $25 for my 6th-grader and an 11th grader.

    • We do the same, Lauren. There is so much that comes back in perfectly unused condition! And backpacks get reused for at least three or four years!

  3. Wait until you get to the older grades. My kids are in fourth and seventh grades. School supplies include bricks of post its, specific brand dictionaries, 8 heavy plastic folders each . There’s no way that I’m getting away with $20 for them all, but am planning on seeing what i already have and then searching for sales…

    • I’ve heard it’s more expensive as they get older. That’s why my budget has creeped up from when I had just one child in Kindergarten to now two kids in elementary school and one in preschool. I’m dreading the scientific calculators, LOL.

      • caroline says

        I’m betting even the scientific calculators will go on sale at some point this summer. That’s when I’m swooping. I need AT LEAST 6 of them this year. 🙂

  4. I checked your blog religiously for school supplies last year but unfortunately didn’t keep track of what I spent. This year I am doing a better job of it so I will be able to play along with the challenge next year! So far I think I am off to a good start though! I am pretty close to being done with the actual school supplies (not including the t-shirts and ziploc bags that are needed) and have only spent less than $10. I have already found better deals (i.e., I spent .50 on a spiral notebook only to come home and see on another blog that walmart has them for .17! Not worth it to make a trip to Staples for the return but I wrote it down so I will know for next year!) but I am no where near spending the $50 our school PTC wanted for us to order the supplies online…even when you factor in the cost of gas!

    • Sounds like you have done awesome so far! And there are always a few deals that I “overpay” for… when it starts bugging me, I just remind myself how much I’d have overpaid if I didn’t pay attention to the sales at all!

      • So I headed over to Target to buy the plastic folder my son needs and they had the marble composition books for .50 instead of the $1 I paid at Staples! So I bought them and a few other items from the list that seemed like good buys and then stopped at Walmart on my way home (it is about a quarter mile down the road) to pick up the 17 cent notebook. If I have to go back to Staples to return the composition notebooks anyway I may as well get the cheaper spiral notebook!

  5. I have a Kindergartener this year and can’t wait to get some good deals on supplies. The school supply packaged order was a ridiculous $70. I know it’s a fundraiser, but come on. That is crazy!! My goal is to spend less than 1/2 of that.

    • Wow! $70 is a ton of money for a kindergarten supply list. That sounds like one serious fundraiser!

      You can definitely get it for at least half.. probably more like 80-90% less!

  6. Do you count the backpack cost in? Last year I sent 2 off to to school (after years of homeschooling) and had to buy backpacks for the first time. I bought a more expensive one than Walmart for my high schooler knowing he’d have heavy books but it still barely made it through the year and I threw it away the last day of school.

    • Lauren Rosen Gerofsky says

      We were fortunate that my parents splurged on my boys’ backpacks. They decided to invest (but on sale) in L.L. Bean ones. They are guaranteed and shipping for repairs etc. are easy, from what I understand. We haven’t needed any repairs yet and each are a few years old. Figuired I’d share my experience. Oh, they do have different sizes for different ages.

      • Michelle says

        I have found it well worth it to wait for a sale and then splurge on a Lands’ End backpack. They are also guaranteed and can be returned to Sears stores. One year about a month into school we realized that the ones that we bought were not working out for the kids (they got ones that they carried on their backs but they were too heavy and needed rolling ones) and I was able to re-order the rolling ones and then return the carrying ones. With another kid by part way through the year the backpack was ripped and again I was able to order a new one and return the old one. I feel that a more expensive backpack should last more than one year and so do they! This year with 3 kids carrying backpacks of various sizes and with quite a heavy load all 3 Lands’ End backpacks have held up really well.

  7. I have stuff from previous year and ofcourse whatever we can reuse from last year gets repacked for following school year. Needless to say I have 4 kids, youngest in preschool an oldest in 6th grade. I have set a goal of $30, one supply item is a specific type of calculator which I saw on sale today for 12.99. Things like ziplock bags, and wipes, kleenix which we stock when it is on sale I won’t include in school supply cost because I buy for the general household anyways. Wish me luck.

  8. Gator Pam says

    If you are willing to buy ahead for next year, stocking up on school supplies when Target puts them on 70% to 90% off clearance in mid-September/early October scores terrific finds.

    • Nancy Sokolove says

      I did this last year too, and stockpiled composition books and those funny pink erasers 🙂

  9. Nancy Sokolove says

    My son needed a new backpack for this school year ahead, and I found a great one, in the perfect size, for $25 at TJMaxx. It’s a Timberland and incredible well-made.

  10. What a great challenge! I have been stocking up on school supplies for years (my oldest is 17), so it costs me very little to get the basics. My younger kids get a new lunchbox and backpack each year, since they use their old ones for camp. I wait for Kohl’s to have the 50% sale with a 30% coupon code to get the best price. If I am lucky, my mom gives me her Kohl’s cash to spend, too!

    I do shop for cheap supplies for our local Operation Backpack. We do a mitzvah and fill three backpacks full of new school supplies for a local organization. My kids love to fill it after we power shop for supplies!

  11. Can you explain how the Staples/Office Depot/ Office Max/CVS/etc. rebates/rewards works (for the school supplies)? I am confused about if I get cash/check/real store credit/store credit that expires soon. Thanks

    • In short… Staples sends you a check that you can deposit right into your bank account. It’s straight up money! Office Max & Depot give you rewards, which are similar to an ECB at CVS (if you’re familiar). It’s money you have to spend there. I’ll work on a post about all three programs and bli neder get it posted before next Sunday’s deals come around. Thanks for the question!

  12. FrugalEngineer says

    I have to admit that I can completely supply my 2nd grader with the stockpile I have in the basement. The only shopping I’ll do this year is to replenish the items I got low on through the year and I’ll do that when they’re super cheap (penny or so), or I’ll wait for clearance. DD’s school list has all grades on one sheet of paper, so I look ahead a year or two and that way I know that, for example, this year she’ll need 7″ scissors. I got those last year when Staples had them FAR.

    Also don’t forget to overstock the items that they’ll run out of mid-year. When DD says she’s run out of pencils I send 2 packs. One for her and one to give to the teacher since I know she’s handing them out to the other kids as they run out, too.

    School supplies don’t have to break the bank between sales, clearance, and stock-piling.

    P.S. Don’t forget all the office supply places will price match. I used the OfficeMax ad today at Staples. I used OfficeMax’s in-ad $5/25 (b/c I wanted a lower threshold than the $5/30 Staples sent me in the e-mail) and got the 12-ct Sharpies for $1 (instead of the 5-ct Sharpies Staples was offering for $1). After tax total: $22.85. Rebate expected: $22.47. And I’ll get StaplesRewards for getting the copy paper, too. For a little bit better than break-even I got:
    2 reams copy paper
    50 sheets photo paper
    15ct colored pencils
    2 8ct Bic pens (they’re a Campbell’s label brand if your school saves)
    2 24-ct crayons
    2 glue bottles
    1 3-ct pink erasers
    12ct Sharpies

    • Good idea to get stuff for that mid-year stock-up. We had more requests for tissues and alcohol hand sanitizer – a lot of sick kids this winter!

  13. Wow, our school seems to require a lot, I don’t know that I can get 1 kid done for $20. We need 20 glue sticks, 15 boxes of tissues, 10 packs of markers among other things! I didn’t think it was possible to use this much! I will defnitely by

  14. Toys R’ Us has Crayola crayons (24 count) 4/$1 this week.

  15. Jennifer S says

    Missed this post originally and I have a question. Just curious how you count it for your challenge if you buy something for the Staples extreme deal that you don’t actually need for school. For instance, if you buy a ream of paper, knowing you’ll use it at home, to get the $5 minimum purchase for 1cent folders, and you get an easy rebate to make the paper $1, do you count that $1 as part of your school supply spending even though it’s not a required supply?

    Also, with regard to scientific calculators, they do go on sale, you just have to keep your eyes peeled. Last year I got one for $10 plus 15% off because I had the Staples back to school card, so $8.50. And it was the exact model requested by the school!

    • I do not count that $1 in my school supply total as we use a lot of printer paper for our home office (and to print coupons!) so that’s a sunk cost for us. A lot of time you can actually get totally free after rebate items, so I definitely wouldn’t count the original outlay. Hope that helps.

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