How to save on back to school shopping

Who knows better about what young students need, and don’t need, in a classroom than teachers?

They’ve witnessed the goofy, excessive and flat-out strangeness in back to school supplies. And the teachers we talked to have one comment: Stop it.

Back to the basics is what Back-to-School shopping should be all about, said Lisa Rogers, a fourth grade teacher at King Springs Elementary in Smyrna. Marbut Elementary school educator Rose Smith has no room for extras, either.

“I have a big tub of things in my closet that I collect,” Rogers said. “If they bring all that stuff to school, I end up taking it anyway. By the end of the day, they’ve forgotten all about it. It’s a waste of money.

Top of Rogers’ leave-it-at-home list? Pencils, all kinds of pencils.

Pencils with whistles and pompoms attached. Transformers and cheerleaders dangling off pencils. Even big packs of 24 pencils. “You only need one or two,” she says. Pencil sharpeners with lava inside? Another no-no.

Smith says bypass the name brands when shopping for school clothes. She does it for her own daughters, ages 14 and 12.

“I never by name brand anything, and I very rarely go to the malls,” she said. She will be shopping this weekend, though, during the sales tax holiday.

Before you do the same, heed these tips to save money on back to school shopping.

Take inventory:

Chances are there are pencils, notebooks, pens, highlighters and other essentials lying around the house. Collect what you have before making any purchases.

Labels are lame:

We admit. Your kids won’t think so, and you might be in for a battle. Explain to your children why forking over lots of money on trendy attire and supplies isn’t necessarily the smart buy. If you do go the route of popular brands, don’t pay full price.

Look for sales:

An obvious tip, but one not to be taken lightly. Comparison shop to get the best deals on the items you need most. Look for coupons online and in the newspaper.

Stick to the list:

Speaking of needs, buy only what you need. If it’s not on the list provided by the school, it’s probably an extra that you can elect to leave on the shelf. If your child wants something fancier, think about a DIY approach. Decorate a backpack or book cover with designs and stickers. Your kids might enjoy their own creation!

Consider discount stores:

Don’t overlook consignment stores and thrift shops. Also, outlet malls often have popular brands at considerably lower prices. For supplies, bargain stores are most often your best bet.

Think about the season:

Buying clothes out of season will often save you money. As fall clothes come out, summer wear can be deeply discounted.

Yard sales:

Garage and yard sales sometimes are ripe with school supplies, like backpacks, crayons, rulers, etc…Take a few minutes to stop and visit a few on a weekend morning.

Be kind:

While you’re racking up great deals, it would be nice to pick up an extra item or two that you can donate to the numerous charities providing supplies to those who simply can’t afford it.

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9 comments Add your comment


July 28th, 2009
8:47 am

I am very frugal with the back to school shopping but, quite candidly, I think some of the supply lists are outrageous. I don’t think parents should be asked to send in reams of copy paper! I understand the reasoning behind it – budget constraints. However, that doesn’t change my opinion that it is ridiculous to ask parents to provide copy paper.

I do agree some parents really get carried away with the school supplies, but if you read the supply lists that are provided in the local stores, you will clearly see it is a two way street.


July 28th, 2009
9:04 am

my sister overbuys her daughters school supplies at the beginning of the year when the prices are lowest and items most plenitful. She stores them in a bin at home and takes them out as needed. Wait until December to buy more wide rule paper of pencils and compare the prices.


July 28th, 2009
9:44 am

this article said it correctly about when to buy clothes…i work retail part-time and something to remember…retail is always a season ahead meaning since it is summer time even though it is the end of July, we are clearing our shelves to make room for Fall inventory…you can get the name brand clothing for $6.00 to $10.00 that includes kids, teenagers and adults…look for the retailer with the big red star…

Elementary Teacher

July 28th, 2009
10:57 am

As a teacher I understand how frustrating it can be to receive a shopping list. Please understand that we make these lists based on what the students use in a year. As for requesting reams of copy paper, tissues, baby wipes, purell, etc., these supplies come out of teachers’ pockets. At my school the copy allotment shakes out to making 2 copies per student weekly. Teachers are doing their best to make do with what they have and we appreciate the cooperation and assistance of families!


July 28th, 2009
12:25 pm

Only one or two pencils? Really? I teach in Austell, and every day I give out pencils to kids who lost theirs or never had enough to begin with. I will agree with Rana, though, about all the fancy pencils. Plain yellow works just as well.

@Andrea: I’ve got copy paper on my supply list. Thanks to budget cuts last year, we literally ran out of it by late March. My friends from the corporate world were saving paper for me from their recycling bins. Yes, it does seem ridiculous on the surface, but it’s far more necessary than most people realize. And since the budget cuts are only getting worse, I’ll bet that we will receive even less paper from the school this year.

Alex B

July 28th, 2009
2:10 pm

Do your shopping online! There are many good websites, such as, that can help you find great savings.

[...] your back-to-school shopping strategy? Do you take the children with you, or leave them at home? If you have older kids, are you limiting [...]


May 23rd, 2010
9:30 pm

Great article. Very interesting and informative. This is very useful for moms planning to do the back to school shopping for their kids. I’ll be back soon to check out new posts of yours.


July 21st, 2010
9:16 am

Hmm…thanks for the link. Very helpful, but is it working? thanks