7 Budget-Savvy Moms Share How They Save Big on School Supplies

backpacks at the store

My son is going into third grade this year and yesterday I got his school supply list. In addition to the new backpack and lunch box he needs, I have a list of no less than 25 things I need to buy and donate to the classroom. None of it is very expensive on its own, but the whole list together is likely to take a hit on my wallet, and that's even if I catch most things on sale.


For the record, I don't mind buying communal supplies (even though I do fondly remember my school days of getting my own folders with the boy band of the moment on them and notebooks that I could decorate with stickers). I get that the communal supply model means that all the kids in the class will be on equal footing and have what they need to be successful. But I also recognize that for families that have more than one kid in school, the cost of school supply shopping can quickly reach into the hundreds-of-dollars territory. That, plus the cost of back-to-school clothes, can leave a lot of families feeling awfully financially pinched. 

So, I turned to some of my most money-savvy friends and asked them how they save on the cost of school supplies -- and I'm loving these totally easy and practical tips:

"I combine forces with other moms! We get the list and then one person goes to the warehouse store and buys bulk sizes for things like paper, pens, plastic storage bags, and whatever else we can find on the list. Then we divide it up. We save a ton that way!" -- Mary D., Tucson, Arizona

"I check the dollar stores and thrift stores in town before I go to the big box store. This year I found binders for 10 cents at the thrift store and got the plastic baggies, tissues, and cleaning wipes on the list for $1 each at the dollar store." -- Renee G., Salina, Kansas

"I plan ahead and stock up when the school supply stuff goes on clearance after the school year starts. I get the supply list for the next grade up and buy that stuff now. The biggest trick is finding somewhere to store it so I can find it next year! But I do save money this way." -- Celeste F., Phoenix, Arizona

"I work for a marketing company and we go through A LOT of binders every year. We don't use them once they don't look new anymore, so I got permission to take the gently used ones and donate them to school every fall. Last year I donated over 100 binders, so no other parents had to buy any. It's a small thing, but it saved everyone a little money. Never hurts to ask businesses for donations of things like that." -- Carrie B., Minneapolis, Minnesota

More from CafeMom: Do a Good Deed! How to Donate School Supplies to Kids in Need

"Last year was the first year I bought all the school supply list stuff online, and I will never go back to the store! Not only did I not have to go to three different stores to find the exact colors of folders specified, I saved money because I bought ONLY what was on the list and didn't get tempted by all the cute extras in the store. Cost-wise, it was the same. But time- and gas-wise, it was cheaper to shop online." -- Sami C., Romeoville, Illinois

"I check the ads before I go and make a list of where things are the cheapest. Sometimes the grocery store or drugstore will have one or two things on the list for a super low price. I keep a list of the lowest prices I've seen on items and check it when I go to various stores to see if I can beat it. I'm also not ashamed to return items on the next trip if I found it cheaper somewhere else. Keep your receipts!" -- Grace G., Saint Paul, Minnesota 

"The most expensive back-to-school things for us are usually backpacks and lunch boxes. I've found I can save money by getting a good quality backpack that will last for multiple years rather than getting something cheap and trendy. My son has had his backpack for three years now and it's still in great shape." -- Gabbie R., Tucson, Arizona

Given that I have a MAJOR weakness for school supplies -- I swoon for a fresh notebook and a good fine tip pen -- I'm going to try the online shopping thing this year to save money. And maybe we can reuse my son's backpack after all. Now that I know all these tips, I feel like I'm saving money already!


Photo via iStock.com/SergZSF

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