How to Save Money on School Supplies

You may have noticed that the price of school supplies and everything else for that matter is increasing at a rate faster than our wages. If you’re like me, you’re probably looking for ways to stay within your budget as your disposable income shrinks.

With this reality facing many families, more and more dollar stores and discount retailers are popping up and gaining popularity. I used to frequent dollar stores for specialty items like baskets, party supplies, candies and craft. But now, I noticed that many dollar stores have expanded their product selection to include housewares, food, hardware, cleaning supplies and more.

The best way to manage your back-to-school budget is to know where to go for certain items. Know what you can get at the dollar stores and discount department stores and know what specialty items you need to get online or at more specialized office supplies stores.

Remember that office supplies stores like Staples and Office Depot are going to be more expensive because they leverage their brand and store locations to set higher margins on their products. They sell brand name items like Hilroy notebooks, Bic Pens and Sharpie markers or highlighters that are more expensive but substitutable by no name brand products.

Bigger discount stores like Walmart may also have the same brand name products but at a cheaper price. If you are brand loyal, then first try and find your school supplies at Walmart before going to office supply stores.

It may take a bit more trip planning and time to save money, but you have to decide whether the extra cost of convenience is worth the extra time and driving you have to do to get cheaper alternatives.

Here are some quick tips on how to save money on back-to-school supplies:

Bigger discount stores like Walmart may also have the same brand name products but at a cheaper price.

Reuse and recycle

If your kids have school supplies from last year that can reuse or recycle, by all means, scratch those of your shopping list. Knapsacks, pencil cases, rulers and geometry sets are examples of items that don’t need to be purchase each year. Unless, they have missing pieces from the set, or damaged beyond repair, encourage the kids to reuse them.

Categorize your checklist

Separate the list of supplies that are generic and non-brand specific. Supplies like pens, highlighters, erasers, rulers and pencil cases are pretty easy to substitute. Put these items on your dollar store shopping list. While you’re at the dollar store, pick up some no name brand house supplies as well so you can save a few bucks on your next grocery run.

For those items on your school supplies list that are brand specific, like notebooks or pencils, you will need to get them at specific office supplies stores. Often times, teachers will specify a brand because there is a specific characteristic of that item that is required or preferred by the teacher. For example, notebooks can come with different line spacing but only one specific brand offers pages that are half lined and half blank. For these types of requests, it’s best not to substitute with generic products.

Go to discount stores for these first before heading to specialty office supplies stores. Often times, Walmart or Target will carry these brand name products for less. Office supplies store should really be your last resort as they are typically the most expensive.

Shop and compare online

Before you head out the door, do some comparative shopping online first. Most retailers will have an online store. Find out which store has the best overall prices for all the items you are looking for or has the most items that you need on your list. This will save you both time and money. You may realize that by doing this, you only need to go to two stores instead of four stores.

You can do comparison shopping with online stores like Walmart, Dollar Tree, Amazon, Staples, Office Depot, Target and more. If you really don’t have time to search all these sites, go to aggregate websites like NextTag or PriceGrabber to compare products from various websites.

Find discount coupons

Use online or print coupons to purchase your supplies. There are online coupon programs that offer special discounts on specific items. Try websites like groupon,,, and to get special deals on back-to-school supplies.

Use your rewards membership

If your kids have a membership to programs like Student Price Cards (SPC) that gives them discounts on clothing or if you have points you can redeem from your loyalty programs, use them for back-to-school items.

Bulk Buy

If you have several kids, you can combine your shopping supplies and buy in volume to save money. For example, papers, pen and pencils are basic supplies that all students need. Instead of buying a package of 10 pens, buy it in bulks of 50. The cost per pen will be much cheaper. For bulk buying, go to Costco, Walmart, Target or the Real Canadian Superstore for generic supplies.

Some of you may be lucky and your children’s school supplies are packaged in one bundle that you can just conveniently order. If this is the case, then just make a list of additional supplies you need that is not provided for you like lunch bags, knapsacks and clothing. Otherwise, use these tips to help you save money and use your fingertips to save you time.

Chanelle Dupre

Chanelle Dupre is a writer of parenting articles and was a single parent for 20 years to two sons now in their late 20's. She had a column in 3 newspapers and this blog is a curation of old and new stories around the challenges of single parenting and ideas on how to make life easier.

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