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See I told you, this would help!

Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

Going Nuts? I can help you understand coupon terms and abbreviations

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back to school

I know you don’t want to hear it… but Back to School season is here!  The deals have started in most stores, and the time to save on back to School Supplies is now.   Before you panic, this doesn’t really have to cost a ton for most age groups.   Here are some of our tips for how to save the most on back to school supplies.

10 Ways to Save on Back to School

Start Early
I know you don’t have your school list or even what teacher they will have, that doesn’t need to stop you.  The sales are running now through the third week in August.  6 weeks.  That’s it.  If you don’t go back to school till September and you wait till the night before to shop, you’ll cry.  In general you can guess what your kiddos need and you’ll probably be 95% spot on.  What did you use when you were 6?  Crayons, Pencils, Markers…

Starting before you have the “official” list may seem dangerous.  If you end up grabbing an extra pack of pencils at 10¢ a pack it’s not nearly as bad as paying $2 for 1 pack the night before.

Make Your Own List
Go ahead and make a list of what you think they can use.  While this isn’t a school sanctioned list, it will help you to stay on track and on budget.  If you start buying every 20¢ deal out there things could get hairy.  On your list make sure to include some necessary items to help outside of school too.  Think of it as the school and homework supplies list.

Double Your Quantity
This tip isn’t so much about cutting the budget right now, but more planning ahead.  Most school supply lists never have enough on them to get you through the year, and sadly we NEVER see a spring school supply sale.   Double whatever you think you need so that you have a stash of supplies to last all year.  This is huge in our house with us homeschooling.  This year may be the first year that we bought enough and didn’t run out for crayons or paper midyear.

Shop Around or Price Match
Grabbing your school list and buying it all in one trip at the same store may feel like the smart thing to do… it’s really probably the worst idea you could have though. A lot of the great deals are in the office supply stores (Staples and Office Depot/Max).  They run the best deals but, have the smallest supply.  If the products are national brands i.e. Crayola crayons and not Staples crayons then you can get those 25¢ crayons at Walmart or Target.  Both stores will price match any local competitor for any identical product!  Keep in mind they will still enforce any limits that were in the original stores ad.

Spread Out the Shopping
Back to #2, you don’t want to get everything done in one trip.  Really!  You wait for your groceries to go on sale before stocking up, and you need to treat school supplies the same way.  Head in to either Walmart/Target with a price match plan or to the office supply stores to grab each weeks top deals.  For most of us, we are already in Walmart or Target for something anyway so it’s probably easier there.  This week we can get 1¢ pencils, erasers, and a few other things.  Next week 25¢ crayons…

Don’t Forget Coupons
We actually do see coupons for back to school items!  Crayola puts out printable coupons, BIC Paper Mate and Sharpie will put coupons in the Sunday papers and some online to print.  You’ll also see store coupons off total purchases or specific items.  Right now Target has a number of Target cartwheel offers out for Sharpie, BIC and more.  If you use the cartwheel app on your phone you can scan the barcode of items in your cart to check and see if there are any coupons available (super easy and fun for the kids to help with).

Quality Is Worth It
There are a few things that are worth the extra money.  While I’m not saying splurge, I would recommend buying a higher quality back pack, lunch box and even binders.  These take a beating and in the long run not having to replace them becomes the savings.  I still have the Jansport backpack I used in high school.  I used it all through college and still use it when we go on long trips!  You don’t really want to know how long ago I was in high school…

Quality Does Not Have a Face On It
This has caused heated debates in years past, but buying school supplies that have characters and brands on them costs money.  Lots of money.  In reality 99% of the time they aren’t the best quality products, but you are paying more for them than top quality items.  If your kids really want branded items then compromise on 1 or 2 things.

Tax Savings Shopping
If your state has tax free shopping days, then take advantage of them for larger purchases.  The savings is not worth it on the little tiny items you are buying over the next few weeks, but for backpacks, uniforms, graphing calculators etc. this can be a nice savings.  The stores also go big over these special weekends with good sales and store coupons.

Think Used For Some Items
While used pencils and crayons are probably not the best idea, used graphing calculators are a great idea.  Clothing can also fit this category.  Shop consignment sales starting in August to get uniforms and clothing.  Also for other large ticket items think of going used for tablets and eReaders.  For anyone else homeschooling, we’ve also gotten used microscopes, math manipulatives and curriculum!

Do you have any other ways to cut the Back to School Budget?

    • Kim

      Please don’t forget that your teacher may appreciate any additional supplies that you don’t need. I am a teacher and go through about 20-30 packages of index cards with my high school students each year. While it is great that I can get them for 1 cent each – I can only buy 3 packages. If you can get them that cheap and don’t need them, consider donating them to your local school. Most primary school students do not need index cards, but go through a ton of crayons and markers.

      • acmurphy

        I, too, teach and Staples and Office Max in my area will allow you to bump up to a higher quantity…some items up to 25! You just have to have your teacher identification (and you likely already have your teacher account with the stores) to qualify. Hope it will be the same for you in your area!

        • happy teacher

          Our local Office Max manager actually found out I was a teacher and since she still had tons of 2 pocket, 3 prong folders in stock on the last day of the penny deal last year she let me buy 500 of them for $5! We had enough to supply the entire grade level for their student portfolios :-)

          • Nancy

            As a high school teacher, we just send a list home on the first day of school. Parents don’t normally get the supplies on the list. I really need Kleenex, Germ-X and paper towels. High school students have lots of allergies and need to blow their noses! :-) Normally, only one or two parents send supplies. At about 90 kids a day, that’s a lot of Kleenex per year.

      • acmurphy

        But I do agree! Donations are always, always, always appreciated and helpful!

      • Jeana Burke

        Kim, where do you get the index card packages for $0.01 each?

    • Guest

      I second what Kim said. Also realize school budgets continue to dwindle and so is our pay, so while teachers used to buy their classroom supplies, most of us can no longer afford to do that. This even includes materials for science experiments, etc. I get $75 a year in my class and a case of paper from an approved/allowable vendor is $40. Definitely check with your school before you shop. Lots of schools put their school supply list out the end of the previous year. (And if yours doesn’t, seriously folks, demand it!) for the most part, schools and districts have administrative approval of the items on the list as what is really needed. And lastly, while some items may seem odd, like ziptop baggies, they are used for 100 things in the classroom, like growing plants :)

    • brishopper

      Thank you, Jenny! Appreciate your hard work. These are good tips for those getting started with couponing and great reminders for others.
      With the help of your site, I’ve been able to send AT LEAST one extra full set of school supplies to my son’s class every year. We only buy the good stuff and we’ve never had to pay full retail for any of it!

      • Thank you for the encouragement!

    • Dianne

      You said “this week we can get 1 cent pencils”…what store has 1 cent pencils this week?

    • Kim

      I know in the past you’ve had a list of supplies and the buy it now prices. Do you have that posted right now? That would be super helpful! I noticed Amazon had some deals up and I’m wondering how good they actually are.

    • AshleyAshley

      I agree with everything!!! I was able to buy a graphing calculator online and save 30 plus tax from someone off Craigslist. Pawn stores also tend to have them….call around, you can do better than full price!!

      Only thing I would add…….buy enough for the next year too. Sounds weird, but I bought extra last year and already have my back to school shopping done this year. I filled in the holes that I was missing slowly and it’s done. Now I can really score on the best and deepest deals this year but not be so crazed about it.

      Good shopping everyone!!

    • Ashley

      After seeing this I checked our school’s website and they have the generalized lists already up and ready to print. I know his teacher might have some specifics but I’m starting this shopping now. We also love to buy extras for charity (events for kids who can’t afford supplies as well as saving for the operation christmas child – the shoeboxes of small gifts)

    • Tally_local

      LOL on the Jansport backpack! I still have one I got in 1999…used it 8+ years getting my education (Bachelors, Masters, and then some more torture for professional designations)…and my daughter has used it through two years of middle school! It’s still in GREAT shape!

    • Amy Furlong

      I always by my kids LL Bean backpacks. The only time they have to be replaced is for size – otherwise they would still be using the ones from elementary school. The packs are also guaranteed for life. I have had to send 2 back before (broken strap, etc.) and they are replaced and monogramed again free of charge. My oldest son has been using the same pack since 9th grade (when his previous pack was replaced due to size) and is still using it in his 3rd year of college. I remove the monogram and donate the old packs to a charity.