Tips to Save Money on Back to School Supplies

by heather

Every time Back to School rolls around, I’m torn.

On the one hand, Back to School signals the slow, steady decline of summer.On the other hand, I love pencils and rulers and crayons and notebooks, and I take a real pleasure just walking into Target to watch all the kids buying supplies to go back to school.

And of course, there’s always that slight longing that I could be one of them again, if only for that first day back in the classroom.

The problem with Back to School is the heavy price tag it now carries. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that they’re expecting the average family to spend over $600 on supplies for Back to School this year. And surprisingly, clothing is going to make up the majority of that total, especially in families with older children.

If you have a student going to college, then the NRF reports you’re likely to spend around $616 just on them. This includes items for their dorm, and clothing.


The good news here is that there are some easy ways to cut down this number to something more manageable.

1. Shop at Thrift and Consignment Stores

I  find great stuff at my local Salvation Army and local consignment shop. My clothing budget is next to nothing because I rarely buy “new” clothing.

You can save big by purchasing used clothing this year instead of hitting the mall.

If your kids want top brand, then make them pay for it out of their job or allowance money. If they don’t have any of their own money, now might be the perfect time to write up a chore sheet and have them start working it off. This will teach them to value their clothing more when they have to actually work for it.

2. Shop Your State’s Sales-Tax Holiday

If you live in a state offering a sales-tax holiday on school and clothing items, then make sure you do your shopping on these days!

Kiplinger Magazine put out a great list, which you can see here, of all the states offering this great perk, and their specific dates.

You can also save by timing your shopping. Many school supplies will be on sale all this month, so buy a Sunday paper to find the deals. And keep in mind that Labor Day weekend is a big time for clothing sales; if you are going to buy brand new items, it might pay to wait until this weekend to stock up.

3. Shop at Home First

Do you have any supplies left over from last year that are languishing in a drawer or box in the basement?

Many people put items away “for next year’, and then forget all about them. Before you go out looking for supplies, scour your house for pens, pencils, and notebooks that might be scattered in drawers and boxes. Reusing these items means you’ll spend less, and consume fewer resources.

At the very least, these “at home” items will get you through the first few weeks of school. In mid-late September, school supplies are going to be 50%-75% off. Hit Target, Wal-Mart or even drugstores like CVS to score deep discounts during this time.

4. Think about Going Green
















O'BON Binder


Chances are there are some things you still need. So why not buy green school supplies this year? Many times their cost is comparible to regular school supplies, but they’re much better for the environment.

For instance, one brand I really love is O’BON. I have several of their pencils (which are made with recycled newspaper), notebooks (which are made with sugarcane paper) and binders (which are made with recycled cardboard).

Plus, as you can see from the picture on the right, the graphics on these products are gorgeous. I have this design myself and can tell you first hand it truly is this pretty.

Plus, the company plants a tree for every purchase.

Right now, The Ultimate Green Store has several O’BON products on sale, which you can see here if you’re interested.

You can also buy awesome, eco friendly backpacks for back to school.

For instance, check out this awesome Recycled Rice Messenger bag from Earth Divas:

Recycled Rice Messenger bag from Earth Divas

In the spirit of full disclosure, I do write the blog for Earth Divas as part of my commercial copywriting business. But that’s not why I’m featuring them. Earth Divas products are awesome because they’re all sustainably made, they’re all fair-trade, and the company returns 100% of their profits back to the artisans at the end of the year in the form of bonus checks. I seriously love working with them.

Plus, this messenger bag is only $19.99. I have the backpack version of this bag and I love it. I’ve been using it to tote stuff everywhere, and it’s held up to some serious abuse. These things are sturdy.

Whether you buy a messenger back or hemp backpack from Earth Divas or not, there are some awesome options out there for eco friendly backpacks. Many of them are incredibly unique, and affordably priced.

5. Use Twitter to Save

So, I know Twitter isn’t for everyone. But you can save big if you use Twitter effectively.

All you have to do is Follow a brand or store that you often shop with for back to school. For instance, here are some I found:

Hey and while you’re at it, why not Follow me?

Many of these brands also offer exclusive giveaways and contests for the Twitter Followers.

6. Buy Generic and Dress It Up

Most of you know that school supplies with celebrities or cute puppies cost more than the plain colored stuff.

Save money by purchasing the cheaper, plain stuff, and then letting your kids decorate it themselves. This would be a fun rainy-day project before school starts.

7. Scour for Coupon Codes

I love looking for coupon codes. I know it can be a maddening experience, but I’ve saved significantly on many items simply by Googling for coupon codes.

I’ve had the most success with RetailMeNot and CouponSherpa.

Last Word…

I know Back to School can get out of control spending-wise. But with some advanced planning and a little legwork doing research online, you can save significantly on the cost of some items.

If you have any tips to save money on back to school, I’d love to hear them! And I’m sure other readers will love to hear them too. 🙂


Bellen August 4, 2010 at 8:48 am

To help keep the cost of back to school clothes under control, especially since my boys had growth spurts, I swear, just after they got new clothes, I’d start the year with only two or three new outfits. Combining those with summer clothes, clothes from the last school year and they were good till November when they needed bigger sizes and warmer clothes. Helped spread out the cost.

R Dieker August 4, 2010 at 12:22 pm

one thing we did when we were kids was take finger nail polish remover and cotton balls and make designs on our plain cover notebooks, each one was unique and fun to make. My mom also supplied us with paint pens to decorate our supplies.

Pamela August 6, 2010 at 4:26 am

These are nice tips and I agree. Why buy for supplies that you can still use and is still in good shape. Coupon codes are definitely the greatest. saves me a lot of money.

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