“For crying out loud, how many pencils could a kid possibly use?” I find myself exasperated, asking questions like this every year around this time. Back to school supply shopping time. And the answer is a lot.

It takes a lot of supplies to prime kids for learning. But the good news is school supplies are relatively inexpensive. Just think about 50 cent folders and 99 cent notebooks. If you snag prices like that, it can be manageable.

And there are some things you can do to save even more money:

1. Use what you can from last year.

If you have folders that are still in good shape, notebooks with only a page or two used, pencil cases that still look new and a drawer full of Fiskar scissors, use them again. Nothing says all the supplies have to be brand new.

2. Shop early and often.

It’s never too early to shop for school supplies. If you wait, the supplies will not get cheaper they’ll just get picked over and harder to find.

3. Spread out your shopping to stretch it over more than one paycheck.

4. Shop without your children.

Depending on their age, they really don’t need to pick everything out. And leaving them at home will help you avoid pleas for the pink glittery pencil case that costs twice as much as the basic yellow one. They’ll live with the basic yellow one.

5. Shop during your state’s sales tax holiday.  

This year 16 states have a certain period of time when certain school related items are sales tax free, which can include clothing, shoes, backpacks, supplies and even computers.

But keep in mind, each state’s holiday covers different items and there is a lot of fine print. To find out the specifics for your state, Forbes magazine has a good list with links.

6. There is one thing I advocate spending more money on to save money in the long run.


Year after year after year we bought cheap backpacks with trendy character designs and they would fall apart, often before the end of the school year.

Buying a better quality and pricier backpack last year, means we don’t need to by one at all this year because it’s still in great shape. Money. Well. Spent.

7. Know where to shop.

After years of consumer reporting and buying supplies for my own children, my top picks for back to school supplies are Target and Walmart. I’ve found them to have the best prices.

I know others include office supply stores in their price comparisons, but aside from a few exceptions I have always found those stores to have higher prices.

After doing a price comparison between Target and Walmart, I found both stores are nearly identical on most items. So it’s really up to personal preference.


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