How to Save on School Supplies Without Going Crazy
If I had unlimited time and gas was cheap, I could get almost everything on my kid's school supply list for 25 cents per item or less.
But here in the real world, there are still ways to avoid spending a fortune on that long list the teachers provide. In fact, I have already gathered about half the items on my second-grader's list — without spending any money at all. I will have to spend a few dollars before I'm done, but my outlay will be nothing like the $200 some parents report spending. (See also: How to Get Into a Good School District for Less)
I get these savings using techniques and tips like these:
1. This time of year, most stores offer a few weekly loss leaders.
You'll find popular school supply items for a quarter, a penny, or even free at the major office stores, drug stores, and discount stores. Each Sunday, take a few minutes to look through the ads for the stores near you. Then, pick one store that has a great deal on several items you need. Try to stop there early in the week before supplies are out.
2. Check fliers for "basket" coupons, like $5 off a $25 purchase.
I've seen many of them so far this year. A quick web search for printable coupons would also be a good idea.
3. Now is a good time to cash in office supply store rewards.
I have been using the MaxPerks program at Office Max for about a year, and I love that you can spend your Perks online. Spend $50, and your order ships free. You could finish school supply shopping without even leaving the house!
4. Many of the best deals I've found this year have been at Walgreens.
They just happen to be piloting a new web pickup program right now in some areas. They're offering a $5 off $20 discount with the coupon code PICKUP20 — enter it when you place your order with a participating store through the website. Then you drive to your store and either wait in the car or go to the photo desk (depending on whether the store has pickup), and — voila! — discounted school supplies with minimal to no time in the store.
5. Take advantage of drugstore rewards programs.
This is how I've gotten some of my supplies free so far. Walgreens offered the ubiquitous 24-pack of crayons for free after Register Rewards. Then I took advantage of a moneymaking deal on another product where I received more back in Register Rewards than I had originally paid. The overage covered the purchase of a 29-cent pair of scissors and some highlighters.
6. Use manufacturer's coupons.
This time of year, school-supply makers publish coupons. I printed a manufacturer's coupon from Facebook to get the requested 12 dry-erase markers for free. The coupon was for $2 off 2 packs of markers, which were on sale for 99 cents apiece at Walgreens. (The cashier reduced the coupon to $1.98.)
7. Use what you already have.
Luckily, my 7-year-old is fond of the sturdy Crocodile Creek backpack that we got her for kindergarten — probably because her dad embroidered her name on it. We will be re-using her backpack and lunch pack, and I was able to locate a clip board and bottle of hand sanitizer we had lying around the house.
8. Stockpile supplies.
When you hit a store that is offering up to five notebooks for a penny each, buy the maximum, even if you only need two this year. You can always put them away for next year — or donate them to needy kids.
9. Work as a team.
Another way to take advantage of the seasonal bounty without accumulating too much excess is to team up with other parents from your kid's school. When those Sunday ads come out, you can hit Office Max while one neighbor hits Office Depot and another goes to Target. This way, you can scoop up multiples of all the loss leaders — or at least buy a large multipack and save by buying in bulk.