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How much do you spend on back to school supplies?

After reading a few articles on back to school shopping, I’m shocked at how much it costs families. According to an annual survey by Deloitte, families will spend about $501 per student on school supplies, including clothes, electronics, and supplies. You can find the 2017 survey results here.

As a middle school teacher, I feel the same back to school blues as students. Of course, I am also really excited to get back into my classroom and see my students again, but I always cringe when I see the giant pencil and notebook signs show up at Target in the middle of July. WAY TOO SOON! The good news is you can save money on back to school supplies!

As a teacher and a finance blogger, I have a pretty cool perspective to give parents and families a few tips to save money on their back to school shopping!

1. Wait Until the Last Minute

This might sound backwards, but trust me, it will save you money! The majority of school shopping happens in an 8 week window starting shortly after July 4 and leading up to the first day of school.

According to the Deloitte Survey, 60% of Americans do their school shopping before August, and those families spend approximately $532. However, if you wait a couple weeks into August, your bill might come down as far as 16% to $458! That’s huge!

Every year I am responsible for resupplying my classroom with basic supplies like rules, paper, scissors, markers, etc. I do get a small budget from my school, but anything above that comes out of pocket, so I try to knab as many deals as possible. Waiting until the last minute is a strategy I use every year!

When it gets late in the shopping season, stores really want to empty their shelves and put items on massive sales! If you’re shopping for notebooks, wait for them to drop to 10 cents each. It always happens!

Of course you might miss out on a few supplies, but it will save you money in the long run if you wait for the deals on less needed items, like cute folders with puppies on them.

2. Don’t Worry About Brand Name

If you are buying basic school supplies like rulers, pens and pencils, markers, and colored pencils, avoid the name brand like Crayola or Five-Star. The generic brands work just as good as the name brands, and BONUS, they cost less too!

And let’s be honest, if your student is middle school or elementary school, there is a high chance he or she will lose or break those expensive name brand supplies within the first month. Trust me, I’ve seen it. I find brand new pencils, notebooks, and folders left on the floors in classrooms and hallways all the time, and it’s rare that students come back to claim them.

3. Buy Used Clothes

The first time I found out my parents bought me used clothes, I kind of freaked out. “You bought me USED clothes!?” still echoes in my brain, and my family still teases me about it to this day! But it’s so smart! Why pay $30 for a shirt when I can get a slightly used shirt for $10!

In 2017, clothing accounted for 55% of back to school spending! That’s crazy, especially when there are so many great used clothing stores with more and more name brand clothing. Plato’s Closet has a lot of name brands for a fraction of the cost of buying new. Skip the name brands and keep a big chunk of your shopping budget in your bank account!

You could also wait a month into the school year before buying back to school clothes. It’s really common for stores to mark clothes down once the school year starts, which means more savings for you!

5 Best Ways to Save Money on School Supplies


4. Ask Your Kids to Chip in if They Want Big Ticket Items

With all the technology in schools today, it’s easy for families and students to justify buying a tablet, chromebook, or other device to use at school. However, not many schools are requiring families to go out and buy a brand new device.

If it’s not required, but your student is adamant about having one, make them a deal to cover some of the costs. If they have a way to earn income through chores or an actual job, it’s not an unreasonable request. They might throw a fit and claim it’s unfair, but I guess that means they don’t want it as bad as they think!

5. Save Money by NOT Buying These Supplies

Pencil/supplies pouch that clips into your binder

It usually prevents the binder from closing properly, which means it will break sooner. Binders are more expensive than this silly pouch. Encourage your student to keep their pencils in their pocket, or tie a string to the pencil and attach it inside the binder (Seriously, I’ve seen students do this and it works like a charm!).

Fancy pens and pencils

Teachers can’t read a lime green metallic gel pen, and many students lose these supplies or take them apart until they break. Just buy the basics, even if it’s a basic mechanical pencil.

Fidget Spinners and Puddy/Slime

These are so trendy in schools, and for 95% of students they are a huge distraction. Unless your student has a medical condition that requires them to fidget to concentrate, your student doesn’t need one. It just turns into a toy that is distracting for your student and other students. Please, no more fidget spinners and slime.

Buy it for the cat instead!

Related Posts: What I Learned Teaching Middle Schoolers How to Make a Budget, Why I Talk to My Students About Money

Back to school shopping is crazy expensive, so make it your mission this year to save as much as possible and get way below the national average.

Let Me Know in the Comments

How do you budget for back to school shopping? Where do you go to find the best deals?

Our budget and goals changed our lives and it can change yours too.

Our budget and goals changed our lives and it can change yours too.

As an Educator and Personal Finance Blogger, Jamie has helped hundreds of families learn how to budget, save money, and pay off debt (go here to subscribe and start your debt free journey). Read our debt free story, “How We Paid Off $73,000 of Debt in Less Than Four Years”.

5 Best Ways to Save Money On School Supplies

6 Responses

  1. I have only been buying what is on he classroom supplies list and buy some items in bulk that I know they will need continuously throughout the year or each year. I also reuse supplies that comes back home from the prior year. We have bought many clothes from garage sale and have bought bigger sizes and tote them up so when the new school year comes around if they need more clothes, I just pull out the tote of items I got from garage sales and then I don’t need to go spend anything on new clothes.

    1. What a great way to plan ahead and stock up on clothes! And I’m sure you save so much money at garage sales compared to the store! I have to say I’m impressed your kids have leftover supplies at the end of the year. My middle schoolers use or lose everything!

  2. Great tips Jamie, especially the ‘used clothes’ one 🙂 we kinda started doing this since we found out our local Salvation Army had great sometimes unused donated clothes, at $1 or less most times, who’d not want to go there. Thanks for sharing and more power to ya.

  3. I work at a local Jr./Sr. and at the end the year when students clean out their lockers they throw away treasures. My co-workers call me the dumpster diver. I’ve gotten book covers, markers, colored pencils, trapper keepers just to name a few. We reuse supplies from previous years. Our teachers request very basic supplies like regular #2 pencils and plain notebooks and folders. We also garage sale and use hand me down (uses. Clothes).

    1. The end of the year is a GOLD MINE! The lost and found is a great place to snag supplies after students leave for the summer too. If it’s there on the last day, nobody is coming back for it. Plus most schools donate or throw it out once the school year is over.

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