It seems like summer has only just begun and, yet—believe it or not—it’s time to start planning so you can get the best savings on all your back-to-school supplies.
Since it is summer, though, we’ve tried to make this as easy as possible for you by compiling all of the best back-to-school tips right here, in one place. So, grab yourself a nice cold glass of lemonade (or iced tea or beer or whatever floats your boat) and get comfortable… we’re about to make your back-to-school planning as easy as it gets.
Oh and a quick note: this article focuses on getting the younger ones ready for school. If you’re looking for money-saving tips for the college-bound kids in your life, check out our education section.
Ok, have you got your beverage of choice? Are you comfortable? Good. Here we go:
- Separate the “Must Haves” from the “Nice to Haves”: First things first, make a list of what your kids actually need. Now, the emphasis here is on need. If their sneakers are in tatters, sneaks go on the list as a “must have”. If they’re just a bit worn, list them as “nice to have”. If you’ve got the budget to get new ones, great. If not, you’ll know that these can wait until next year (or even later this year) if you need to. The same goes for school supplies too. Hopefully, your children’s teachers will give you a list of supplies that are necessary. Even better if they identify the items that are needed versus those that are optional. If a teacher hasn’t done this, don’t be shy about asking.
- Create a budget: Ok, I know I’ve probably lost some of you on this one. You’re probably saying, “Wait a minute? Didn’t this guy just tell me I should relax?! How am I supposed to relax when he’s talking about budgets?!” Take a deep breath. Take a sip of that lemonade. And now, let’s ease into this. Creating a budget doesn’t need to be painful. Honest. Give yourself some leeway and keep it simple. Step 1: quickly rattle through your list and jot down what you think each item will cost. Don’t worry if you’re right or wrong—all we need right now is a ballpark, so take your best guess, jot it down and keep moving. Step 2: Add up all the items on your list and see how the cost compares to what you can actually afford to spend. Step 3: Re-visit that list and see where you can scale back (for example, maybe you can find those boy’s sneakers for $19 instead of $25). Ok. At this point, some of you are probably within your budget. If so, congrats! If not… don’t worry about it for now! Put the list aside and keep reading. The rest of these tips will help you get those costs down to something more manageable.
- Take advantage of amazing back-to-school doorbuster-quality deals (without getting suckered into the not-so-amazing deals): Most of the big brand stores—whether it’s for clothing or for office and school supplies—will run weekly deals leading up to the start of school. Here’s their trick: they advertise a HUGE deal each week, such as 1 cent pencils and 10 cent notebooks. These deals are so good, the store actually takes a loss on the sale. Why on earth do they do this? Because they plan to entice you in with the HUGE deal and then get you to spend the rest of your budget on the not-so-huge deals. Don’t fall into that trap! Instead, scan all the weekly listings and hit the stores that have the best prices on the items you need. You can stock up on most items for next-to-nothing. We don’t recommend incurring extra expenses for gas or wasting a lot of time, but if it’s convenient, hit these stores every week and stock up on all of the inexpensive items and pretty soon you’ll have covered just about everything on your list without spending much at all. If you see other good deals along with the huge deals, go for it. But don’t get suckered into the bad deals! Super savings tip: If the huge deals require a minimum purchase that you might not reach otherwise, look for “free after rebate” items to help you hit the spend threshold while still maintaining great savings (since you’ll get that money back in the form of the rebate). Check out this new article to see exactly how we do it. Extra credit: if you’re super diligent, take your list and jot down the prices you see at each store each week on the items you need. This serves as your price log so you’ll know how much each item is being sold for and you’ll be able to immediately spot a great deal when you find one. Keep this list for next year, too. It’ll serve as a valuable reference so you can hit the ground running on your next back-to-school trip!
- Price match when you can: Most office supply stores will price match their competitors’ deals, so bring along ads from other stores when you’re shopping. It may save you a trip! Depending on the store manager, they might even match their competitor’s 1 cent deals and discount coupons.
- School supply packs might bust your budget: Many schools offer the opportunity to pre-buy a selection of supplies that will be waiting for your child when they start school. This is definitely a time saver, and might be right for your family (especially if your child feels strongly about getting the “official” pack that their friends have). However if you’re looking to minimize your budget, you can probably do a lot better buying the items piecemeal on your own when they go on sale. Check with your school, but often the brands or styles they recommend for things like pens and notebooks are not requirements, and you can feel free to substitute.
- Look for Passes and Loyalty Programs: many stores offer passes or loyalty programs that will give you special discounts during this shopping period. For example, Staples offers a $10 pass that gives you 15% off through September on all back-to-school items. Check your list to make sure Staples carries the items you need, but—if so—this can be a great deal. In some cases, you’ll even be able to use the discount on “free after rebate” items which basically means you’ll get cash back or store credit on those items! Although we’re using Staples as the example here, keep your eyes peeled at other stores too… it’s not uncommon to see the same types of deals at Kmart, Target, Toys R Us and other.
- Use coupons: nothing says a great deal can’t become even better. Check your store’s circulars and websites for extra coupon savings. LOZO.com has a list of coupons and cash back opportunities for top stores, all on one easy-to-use page. Make sure to read the coupon rules so you apply it to the right items. For example, many of the doorbuster items don’t qualify for further savings. Traditional grocery coupon circulars can yield surprising savings as well so be sure to check them for deals on school supplies. Finally, LOZO has a special category for school supplies coupons in our Coupons Bundler. Under the “Household Goods” category, select “Office & School Supplies” to see everything that’s currently available.
- Clothing: Buy a few “hero” pieces: When it comes to clothes, be strategic about where you’re spending your cash. For example, if your kid wears jeans every day, it makes sense to invest in a better quality pair of jeans as a “hero” piece within their wardrobe. Then you can dress it up in a bunch of different ways with cheaper “supporting” pieces. For example, you might buy a bunch of lower cost tops to make the same pair of jeans look different. This can be even easier for girls where a couple of fun (& cheap) accessories can make the whole outfit look new.
- Go for generic school supplies: Most major stores—Staples, Office Depot, Office Max, Costco—offer their own private brands that cover a wide array of school supply products. In most cases, these ‘generic’ brands are just as good as the bigger brand names, but they’re a lot cheaper. If you’re worried about quality, play it safe. Generally speaking, products like paper, paper clips and fasteners, folders, and envelopes offer similar performance from private brands as the big name brands do. However, writing instruments–especially pens–may give inferior performance so it might be worth the extra costs here to buy a known brand. If you’re not sure, do a “taste test” with a sample in the store or buy a small amount of the item you need and test it at home. Exception to the Rule: If a big brand name is offered at a steep discount (say 50% off), that’s likely to be a better deal than the generic brand price. In those cases, compare prices and buy the brand name if it’s cheaper!
- Buy in bulk: Safety in numbers, right? Well, the same applies to discounts when it comes to office and school supplies. You’ll often get a better deal if you buy in bulk. Team up with family members, friends and neighbors who have school age kids as well. You’ll all get a better deal by joining together.
- Re-use supplies instead of buying new: With a little creativity, you can save money on all kinds of school supplies. Of course, paper clips, folders and rubber bands can be re-used until the cows come home. Another idea is to re-use paper that only has printing on one side. You can use the other side to print out drafts of homework assignments (that don’t need to be handed into the teacher, of course!). You can even cut the paper into quarters, stack them and staple them at the top… Voila! Instant notepad.
- Pack school lunches: You can save money by packing your kids’ lunches. With the overwhelming amount of printable grocery coupons available, it’s easier than ever to knock down the cost of your grocery bill. And, depending on your school, you’ll likely be able to give your kid a much more balanced meal than he or she would get from the cafeteria. If you don’t have time to search for coupons, use easy services like ours where you tell us your shopping list and we’ll send you grocery coupons that match items on your list. No searching needed!
So, there you have it, a simple guide for saving money on all your back-to-school needs.
If you’ve finished your beverage of choice, I’d recommend you go grab another and kick back and enjoy the rest of this beautiful day!