School supplies? What does school even look like this year?
If you’re a parent, you are probably wondering what back-to-school will look like this year.
Maybe you are waiting for your school district to announce their plans for the year, or possibly the year’s start has already been delayed. Parents are trying to decide between a multitude of options – send the kids back to classrooms full time, hybrid schedules mixing in-person and online, eLearning through your school district, co-ops with other parents, or homeschooling.
There is a lot of uncertainty right now about what this school year will look like. So whatever you are gearing up for, we want to help.
Where do you start when it comes to scoring great deals on school supplies? Below is a list of tips and tricks for back-to-school shopping compiled by one of the I Was Broke. Now I’m Not. team members, Whitney Purcell, along with a few of our other moms. Whitney is a mom of two little girls (3 and 6) and has spent a great deal of time researching back-to-school deals.
When to Shop for School Supplies
Knowing when to shop can help you save a lot of money. We suggest checking to see if your state has a tax-free weekend and when retailers are planning to run specials.
Shop during your state’s tax-free weekend is a great way to save money. You not only avoid paying sales tax on clothing and school supplies, but most retailers run specials that weekend as well.
Before you head out to do your shopping, do your research. Different states have different restrictions on what is tax-free. While most states include school supplies and clothing, you’ll want to check in advance. To see when your state’s tax-free weekend is and what it covers, click HERE.
If you are in a state that doesn’t offer a tax-free weekend, it could be worth driving to another state close by, especially if you need to purchase high priced items. Growing up in Kansas, we didn’t have a tax-free weekend, but Missouri was only a 30-minute drive, so going there to purchase back-to-school clothes and supplies was worth the trip.
This year some states, like Tennessee, are planning to have two tax-free weekends!
Another great time to shop is when a retailer is running specials. Check out stores like Target, Walmart, and office supply stores to see their specials. Typically this will start the beginning of August. Remember, you don’t have to purchase all of your supplies at one store – by shopping ahead of time, you can figure out where to buy what to save the most money.
You know Walgreens? Well, it isn’t just your drug store on every corner. Walgreens carries school supplies as well. While they aren’t the best priced, they offer great specials throughout the year, which includes deals on school supplies. Check out their weekly ads and coupons to see if school supplies are on there.
Where to Shop for School Supplies
You may feel like you are bombarded with options when it comes to where to shop. Don’t look past the unexpected locations, though.
First Get a Rebate
Before you use any of the store websites on our list, you should use Rakuten to get cashback your purchase. Once you sign up for a Rakuten account, you can add their browser app which will notify you when they have cashback for a participating retailer.
If you don’t like the browser extension, you can also go to their website before visiting an online store. For example, I just logged into my account, did a search for Target, and it came up with 1% cash back. I click on the Shop Now button and it takes me to Target’s website.
That’s it! Whatever I purchase I get 1% cash back. The amount of cashback varies greatly by store. I have seen as much as 22% cashback at some small retailers or on specific items, but it is usually around 2%-3%.
Yes, I know this one may seem obvious, but I will be amiss if I didn’t mention it. Not only does Target offer great specials for back school, but it has wonderful clothing options for kids.
Did you know that their Cat & Jack line has a one year warranty? My daughter’s legging had a hole in them, so I took them back. I didn’t have a receipt, so they looked up the item number to verify when it was purchased and replaced them with no questions. Not only that, but they run wonderful specials for Black Friday each year, including summer clothes, so I stock up online and avoid the lines.
Bulleye’s Playground (formally the Dollar Spot) has great deals on classroom supplies. Some of these are geared more towards teachers this time of year, but that is great if you plan to homeschool or do eLearning. I’ve purchased pencils, workbooks, whiteboards, etc. for my kids there. They love being able to practice their letters and numbers using these inexpensive tools.
If your kids are going back to the classroom, this may be a great place to find gifts for your children’s teachers (and we all know they are deserve a great gift)! Remember, if you add a whole bunch of unnecessary items to your cart, you won’t be saving in the long run – something I have to remind myself of continually (with the help of my husband).
You can find Target’s weekly specials [HERE]. Deals vary by location, so make sure to check out the ads beforehand. At some locations they are offering Crayola markers and crayons for $0.99, kids scissors for $1.49, paint sets for $1.99, plastic folders for $0.50, and notebooks for $0.69. They also offer a 2-pack of kids’ fabric face masks for $4.
I love Aldi! I love my low bill when I leave. I love the savings on my groceries. I also love their seasonal goods, including their school supplies this time of year.
Their weekly ads will show their specials, and when they expect to get items in stock. Aldi also gives you a sneak peek of what will be the next week’s specials so you can plan ahead. I suggest going on the first day the school supplies are stocked because these specialty items can sometimes sell out quickly. While some stores may restock, for some locations, once they are gone, that’s it.
Aldi is another excellent location for tissues and disinfecting wipes, which schools will most likely ask for in abundance this year.
I’ve also seen great deals on character backpacks, lunch boxes, insulated food containers, and kids reusable water bottles. They even have lunch storage containers with compartments for their entree and sides.
If you need additional learning materials for at-home, Aldi offers educational puzzles and elementary age perforated page activity books. My daughter is working through their kindergarten book right now. They review letters, shapes, colors, and sight words. Aldi also had a summer review activity book this year.
I’ll be the first to say that Walmart wasn’t my favorite place to shop. While they have low prices, our local Walmart always had long lines and not the best customer service.
However, when Walmart introduced its grocery pickup with a convenient app where I could do my grocery shopping in my sweatpants at home, I became a Walmart shopper.
Most moms will agree it is no fun running errands with kids in tow. In and out of the car seats in the heat – no, thank you! Getting Walmart’s low prices without standing in lines is a massive win in my book. Check out their back to school specials [HERE].
Check the Dollar Store, Family Dollar, or Dollar Tree for back-to-school items like basic calculators, planners, colored pencils, or clipboards. This will help you save money while still getting a great item. Most stores stock school supplies year-round, including name brand items at some.
Amazon often has the lowest price on items, so make sure to check items against Amazon. I’ve found if you’re ordering multiple of an item (like glue, markers, etc.) they have better prices. It also saves you on spending extra money on gas running around town, especially if you’re already paying for Prime.
We’ve included an Amazon shopping list to help you get started, click HERE.
Office Supply Stores
Office supply stores can have a reputation for being a bit expensive. They offer such a wide range of products that their draw is they have everything you need, not that they are the most inexpensive. However, during back-to-school, they will run specials. I’ve seen sets of colored pencils on sale for half of what they are listed for at other retailers. Check out their ads. If you can pop in quickly for a few items while you’re running errands, it may be worth the trip.
BONUS – These stores usually have coupons that you can easily find online. I have the Michael’s and Hobby Lobby apps on my phone, so I can pull up their weekly coupon at checkout. If you don’t have the app, don’t worry about printing the coupons ahead on time, just make sure you have their website pulled up with the online coupon.
How to Shop for School Supplies
We’ve talked about when and where to shop, but it’s also important to consider how you shop. If you buy everything in one location and pay no attention to the sales, you leave savings on the table.
Order in Bulk
If you have multiple kids or have a friend who is willing to split supplies, look at ordering in bulk to save money. Some retailers (ex. Amazon) will have a multi-pack of paints, sets of markers, scissors, etc. that you can purchase. Purchasing in bulk will help save you money per set.
This also applies to items like Clorox wipes, sanitizer, and tissues. If you buy a multi-pack, you save per item, and you can keep the extra for your household stock.
Look at What You Already Have
If you’re like me, you love a good deal. So when I see something on clearance that I know we will need soon, I will scoop it up. Don’t forget to check if you already have it at home before you buy more.
Since kids were sent home early last year, chances are there are some unused items they can take this year. For instance, I have a few glue sticks that my daughter never used. Look through last year’s supplies for unused items that you can reuse this year.
Don’t shy away from generic brands. There is a stigma that generic is inferior to name brands. However, that is not the case.
Some generic brands may not be a good deal over time if you have to replace them quicker or don’t work well. However, some stores (ex: Target) are making quality products (markers, colored pencils, etc.) that will save you money but still deliver the performance that your child needs.
Store Pickups and Online Shopping
Schedule store pickups for your school shopping. By utilizing curbside pick up options from Walmart, Target, Aldi, and more, you can save yourself time and money.
If you don’t have to go into each store, you are more likely to shop around and choose different stores for the best prices on individual items. You can add them to your current grocery pick up, so it doesn’t cost you an extra trip.
If you want to avoid the stores altogether, we’ve included an Amazon shopping list with some of our suggestions. No running around town – just click HERE and send!
Check magazines, newspapers, or online coupon sites for options. On our budgeting page on the I Was Broke. Now I’m Not. website, we have links to several online coupon sites. This is a great place to start.
If a store has an app (like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby that I mentioned earlier), check it before shopping to see if they have any special deals. You can find great deals and look for in-store coupons. For instance, the Target app will show you their weekly specials, and you can add Target Circle Offers to save even more.
As you’ve been purchasing items, you’ve been earning rewards at a lot of stores throughout the year. Look to see what stores you’ve earned reward points and exchange your points for school supplies, clothes, or shoes.
You may want to check if you have credit card points to redeem. If so, choose a store where you’ll do back-to-school shopping and get a gift card there. We’ve redeemed our points for Walmart and Target gift cards.
Does a store that you’re shopping at offer price matching? Stores like Staples, Target, Kohl’s, Office Max, and Office Depot offer price matching. Check each store to learn about its policy and restrictions.
Happy School Supply Shopping
I know making decisions about school during COVID-19 has been difficult and stressful for parents and school officials alike. So, however, and whenever your kids return to school this fall, we hope you find this helpful. Remember, there is no “right way” for everyone, so give yourself and others grace! Happy (and thrifty) shopping!
How have you saved money back to school shopping?