6 Tips for Saving Big Money on Office Supplies

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This article shares tips from the newest episode of Dealista, our podcast that'll help you get more for less.

Whether you’re a small biz owner or just a super-equipped bill payer, chances are good that you’ll spend at least $50 in office supplies in a typical year. For every dollar above that amount, there is an even better opportunity to save — big — by following a few simple tips.

1. Get Loyal

Repeat business at your favorite office supply chain isn’t just good for their bottom line, it’s great for yours, too! Most major national retailers offer a discount by signing up for their rewards programs, and there is no cost to join. Here are the details on the big three.

Office Max has two separate programs: one for small businesses (which anyone can sign up for) and one for teachers. Their program (called the Max Perks program) will give you a $25 gift card for every $500 in purchases made during a calendar year in the business program, and a $10 reward for every $75 earned annually in the teacher program. This is in addition to some of their more rewarding promotions that they offer throughout the year through their bonus Max Perks — which give you something similar to a rebate on popular ad items. Rewards are paid out quarterly, and come in the form of a gift card.

Office Depot offers 10% back on ink, toner, paper, and Copy & Print Depot purchases, plus 1% back on almost everything else. (This is in addition to the $3 you can get back for every ink or toner cartridge you recycle at a limit of 5 per day.) Get your rewards in the form of an Office Depot gift card, after you reach $10 in rewards each quarter.

Staples has its own loyalty program, called Staples Rewards. They will give the exact rewards as Office Depot on the same services. (Their limit for recycled ink cartridges is 10 per month, however.) Rewards are paid quarterly in the form of a gift card.

2. Score Free Software

Forget the pricey $30+ price tag that comes with typical software applications. With all the freeware, shareware, and open source options available, it’s possible to bet by with no-cost solutions for most of your software needs. Two stops on my quest for freebies include CNET’s download site (which regularly gives you virus and spyware protection alternatives, as well as thorough peer reviews of every download) and Giveaway of the day (which features just one free download of utilities for screen savers, media editing solutions, and fire sharing helpers). If you're like me, you can skip most of the big name (Microsoft) offerings in word processing, spreadsheet, and database programs and just go with free open source options, like OpenOffice.

3. Learn to use Freebates

Checking the weekly flyer from the big three office supply stores mentioned above, you’ll see right away that they offer many common items for free — after rebate. While you will have to wait awhile to see your money returned (and if it’s part of the loyalty program, you will only see a gift card, not a check), it’s a great way to pay nothing more than tax and shipping on staples like printer paper, envelopes, and Sharpies! Most companies don’t require you to do anything extra when you purchase (unlike typical rebates which require filling out forms and sending in receipts). Just make sure you use your loyalty card and keep those receipts!

4. Set Your Printer Settings to “Savings”

If you’re printing out emails, notes, or other items that only you’ll see, there’s no need to use color ink or high-picture quality to do so. Set your printer to fast-draft or black ink only, and save big on the cost of your ink supplies. Better yet, look at installing an Ecofont into your word processing program. This customized font has tiny holes in each letter, letting you get by with even less ink than before!

5. Buy Ink Off-brand

Perhaps one of the most common ways people try to save money in the office, buying remanufactured or refilled ink cartridges offer savings of up to 50% over the “brand name” buy. Some even buy the ink to refill their own cartridges.

We applaud your penny-pinching ways but do want to make a few suggestions for getting the biggest bang for your buck:

  • Know your printer’s warranty. If you have a new printer, you may want to consider letting it expire before you switch over to ink alternatives. Using anything but the manufacturer’s authentic ink cartridges can void your remaining warranty, making repair or replacement your problem to deal with.
  • Know your cartridge. Get a good look at your “official” printer cartridge, snap a photo with your digital camera, and become familiar with the numbers printed on it. Often times, customers of “off brand” ink providers have reported getting an ink cartridge that didn’t quite fit. Being aware of what a good fit looks like will help you in getting issues resolved.
  • Know your price. Depending on your printer’s make and model the off-brand ink may be just as expensive as the brand name (or only a few pennies cheaper.) Factor in shipping, taxes, or voiding your warranty, and you may be wise to stick to your HP, Canon, or Lexmark offerings.

6. Repurpose

Ever notice how expensive those little bubble mailers have become? What’s stopping you from reusing the ones you get in the mail for items you ship out? Not only is reusing materials an affordable way to get through the month, but it’s very eco-friendly. (Afraid of looking second rate by using anything less than a crisp, new envelope? Most office supply stores offer “We proudly use recycled materials” stickers that can be placed on your outgoing packages.) Brainstorm ways you can reuse packing materials, shredded non-sensitive documents, and those Amazon boxes. There’s money in those materials!!

Dealista is a collaboration between Wise Bread and Quick and Dirty Tips, the producer of popular podcasts such as Grammar Girl, Money Girl, Winning Investor, and Mighty Mommy.

If you enjoyed these tips you can find more in our show's archive.

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Guest's picture

#7: Steal office supplies from work.

Guest's picture

Thanks for really great tips. My most favourite is the free stuff because when I was growing up my father used to say or imply that if something was free it wasn't very good. As a result I had a bad attitude towards free which locked me up for quite some time. Success on the web is all about free and so if you're not looking for it you'll miss out on lots of things that money just can't buy!!

Guest's picture

For a home office - you don't talk about picking up free pens & pencils wherever they are offered - fairs, conferences, hotels, etc. Ditto for post-its (there are also samples available on line.) In addition - look for the deals in office supplies in dollar stores! I have bought post-its, pencils, pens, markers and liquid paper there! And at the office stores (Staples, I think), you get credit for recycling your cartridges, which we use towards printer paper. There are also mousepad giveaways and so on. And pick up notepads when you see them offered. For in-house use, who cares if there are ads. I am currently using a Minute Rice notepad! My husband also haunts the sale racks at the office stores for deals on software and other office things.

Guest's picture

These are great tips. I already do several but will take advantage of the printing suggestion (my husband gives me a hard time about going through so much ink --- and he's right).

To the first commenter, that's bad karma!

Guest's picture

Garage sales are great too!

Guest's picture

Just an FYI - studies have shown that these office supply superstores actually charge more than the independent dealers, many times inflating list price so the perception is that they are giving you a better deal. In fact, they need to charge more to pay for all of the big fancy offices, CEO salaries & advertising! Check out your local dealer and become loyal to them and you will reap many more benefits than a few reward points!

Guest's picture

Thanks for the tips! These would surely provide great savings.

Guest's picture

In addition to the tips above, you can also get cash back up to 2% at Office Depot, Office Max and Staples when you sign up for free at http://www.i-want-rebates.com They have hundreds of other stores with rebates too.

Guest's picture

Nice blog! Save money any way you can in business. I found a really good
source for refilling my printer cartridges. It's convenient and inexpensive.
Check it out, here.

Guest's picture

Great money saving tips! I would like to add one of my own, as I found it to be extremely cost effective in our office of almost 30 people... We replaced our antiquated coffee pot with a Keurig and a KCup Vending Machine! So much coffee and employee time was wasted with the old method. Now, the Keurig brews filter-free & without a pot in 30 seconds, and the vending machine offers amazing cost control! I recommend it to anyone looking to save money on typical expenses.