Creative Ways to Save Money on Back to School

Reader Contribution by Amy Greene
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Believe it or not, summer is almost over and soon we will be facing back to school. A time for new clothes and shoes, new pencils and erasers, fresh crayons and notebooks … and money to be spent. But, with a little planning and ingenuity, you can keep more money in your pocket while still getting all the supplies you need for your students. Here are a few ideas on how to save money on back to school supplies.

1. REDUCE: We’ve all seen the lists sent out by the schools for the supplies needed in each grade. Is it just me, or do those lists seem to grow every year? When my first child started school (we had homeschooled for years, then decided to allow her to attend the last year of public middle school), we followed the list to the letter, buying exactly what was on the list, not deviating an inch. We quickly learned that those lists should be followed as a guideline, not a playbook! When my oldest started school, we saw that almost two-thirds of what we had purchased either did not get used, or did not get used until MUCH later into the year. So, study those lists carefully. Look through them and decide from experience – what is a must have for the first day/week/month of school? What can wait?

A pile of supplies waiting to be used. Photo: Fotolia/Jenifoto

2. REUSE: We have four children. When buying for more than one child, we discovered there can be quite a bit of leftovers in many areas, whether it’s food, clothing or school supplies. We soon learned that having our children clean out their rooms before school started led to amazing discoveries of stacks of notebooks, reams of filler paper, multiple binders, boxes of colored pencils, crayons and markers, and even extras such as glue sticks, highlighters and scissors. After that first year, I cleared out a spot in a central location and started stashing extras items there, especially those that were located in the darkest recesses of the children’s rooms. At the end of a semester, or a year, we would put any excess items in our designated spot. Then, at the beginning of the next year, we will “shop” our shelves FIRST – that way we don’t buy too much or duplicate something we already have.

Old crayons waiting to be used for something new. Photo: Fotolia/Martin Garnham

3. RECYCLE: We have had some fun with this one over the years. It is interesting how different each child’s taste in supplies can be. What one child thinks is amazing, the next child will most definitely turn up a nose at. So what we’ve done is find various ways to make old things look new. That old white binder? Use various colors of duct tape in interesting designs to make an original new binder. That practically new notebook with only a few sheets used, but it has a sibling’s name on it? Markers work wonders to make that name into a crazy design. Minimally used pencils? Yarn around the ends for a “wrap” design make something new that no one else has. Between your imagination and Pinterest, there are a HUGE number of ideas to make old supplies new.

Supplies used to make old binder new. Photo: Amy Greene

4. RESEARCH: If, after doing all of the above, there are still items that you need to purchase, do your homework. It seems as though every store has some sort of deal on school supplies. Make a list each week of where all the best deals are and then hit each store quickly. Buy the loss leaders at each place, and you can save a ton of money. Also, be sure to take advantage of rainchecks if you happen to get to a store too late for their deals. That way, later in the year when you might need more notebooks, you can use the raincheck and get them for the 25 cents each price. My first time school shopping, I thought it was foolish to buy anywhere other than one store. That was a huge, and very costly, mistake, as I realized too late how much I could have saved by bargain shopping several stores for school supplies the same way I do for groceries. It was a lesson quickly learned and never forgotten.

In short, being creative, and savvy, can have a positive effect not only on your wallet, but even on the environment, as you reuse items, use less of them, and recycle things that might otherwise have been thrown out.

What ideas do you have for saving money on school supplies? Leave them in the comments below.

Until next time,
Amy Greene

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