Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
It’s the most exciting time of year for bargain shoppers with kids in school (or anyone who likes cheap office supplies). For some people, shopping for school supplies is a fun and traditional big spending spree. It was for my mother and me. But I made this time of year a big, fun, traditional party savings Party.
We look at sales flyers every week, gather our quarters and list of school supplies, and see how much we can spend to get the things we need. In our best year, we only spent $9 on school supplies.
To help you make the most of the back to school sales, we’ve compiled our top tips.
Don’t buy everything
Schools send parents a list of items the student will need for the upcoming year. But before going to the big box store, do some shopping at home. Do you have highlighters and glue sticks in your home office? Already have lined paper, even if it’s not new packaging? How about that stash of pencils in the fundraising drawer? Is this filing cabinet still in working order, but just needs a soapy bath to remove stains?
If you have leftover supplies from last year, reuse them. But just in case you think your child will never agree to reuse last year’s pencil box, I’m going to let you in on my biggest secret to achieving compliance: Give each child a certain amount of money to use for school supplies, and tell her she can keep what’s left. You’d be surprised how attractive last year’s backpack is starting to look.
Of course, everything on the list must be present and accounted for (whether purchased, repurposed, repurposed, or dumped from the dumpster – ha, just kidding) before the extra money is spent. This tactic also motivates your child to help you find bargains.
Follow your list
School supply lists are now available for most parts of the country. Print the list and bring it with you every time you shop. And follow him. It’s easy to be lured into buying a Lalaloopsie four-wheeled backpack with a removable water bottle and matching hat, but it’s a waste of money if your child’s school doesn’t. wheeled backpacks are not allowed.
Budget for the basics – it’ll save you spending money on that wheeled backpack.
Watch the sales
You probably already know that stores often display prices on certain items. waaaay down to let you in. Stores lose money on these loss leaders, but they hope that once you’re in the store, you just have to finish your shopping list.
Sometimes you hit the jackpot – a store’s loss leaders make up the majority of the items on your list. Other times, you go to a store for a 25-cent pack of pencils, and that’s all you walk away with. Although many stores offer pre-school sales, you can find great deals after the first day of school. Stock up on the basics, but wander these aisles after classes start to see if you can score a bargain for next year.
Search Coupon Matches
Loss leaders or sale items with a coupon are best. They can also be a test of patience, as the brand, size, type, quantity, and every detail of the item on sale and the coupon must match. For example, washable markers may be on sale, but your coupon is valid for regular markers, or vice versa. But that’s where kids can help — they have energy to burn. Show them how and let them find the matches. (It’s educational.)
Buy strategically and often
Stores usually have different loss leaders each week, so if you wait for an item to go on sale, you can often get a much better deal. Part of it comes with practice and experience.
How far will an article go? File folders can be as cheap as 5 cents each, while loose-leaf notebook paper can cost 10 or 15 cents a pack. But if the teacher asks for very specific attributes, like a two-pocket vinyl folder in yellow and green, the 5-cent folders might not work for you. Once a sale is announced, don’t wait too long. The best deals sometimes sell out. Some merchants limit the number of items you can buy at the sale price, which is helpful because there’s enough for everyone.
Don’t worry if you overpaid
Speaking from personal experience, it can be so frustrating to buy something for 50 cents only to see it on sale next week for 5 cents. But the bottom line is that if you watch sales, use coupons, are patient, and move fast, you are will save money, and your kids will get the school supplies they need. Enjoy your time with them and don’t cry over a missed deal.
Please don’t take more than you need
The latter is not so much a tip as a request. I think it’s admirable that people donate their extras to those who need them, but these days many of us need to find all the bargains we can. If possible, leave some good deals on the shelves for others. Another cool thing to do is put your extra coupons next to the item for someone else to find and use. This scores some serious cuteness points.
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