Skip to main content
How to Save on School Supplies

How to Save on School Supplies

By Matt Diehl • August 05, 2016

As the first day of school draws near, parents across the country are preparing for their own test - buying school supplies.

A long shopping list and the rising costs of back-to-school spending can be challenging but there are ways to save time and money. Here are some scholarly tips that any parent could use to ace back-to-school shopping:

See what you have already

A good place for any parent to start their school shopping is right at home. Some families tend to have leftover supplies from the previous school year or household items they could repurpose for school use. Calculators and scissors can accumulate over the years and the “junk drawer” in your home could be a gold mine for what you need. A little ingenuity can go a long way!

As you gather items, it may be helpful to keep everything in one place so try to designate a plastic bin or kitchen drawer as the main repository. Some people may also find it useful to keep a running list of what they have and what they still need.

Although supply lists are typically provided by teachers ahead of time, here is a basic checklist of school supplies that most children could use:

  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Highlighters
  • Markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Crayons
  • Notebooks
  • Binders
  • Post-it notes
  • Rulers
  • Blunt-tipped scissors
  • Calculator

Look out for sales and discounts

Back-to-school shopping is the second busiest shopping season of the year1. With that in mind, companies will be competing for business and usually offer incredible deals for a limited time. If you know what “big ticket” items you need, look through your local papers or search online for upcoming sales. It could be smart to buy other non-school related supplies as well.

If you live in or near one of the states offering tax free shopping days, this is also a great opportunity to save money. Participating stores will not be charging sales tax on select items including clothing, shoes, computers and a variety of school supplies. In fact, if anyone in your family needs these items it could be smart to buy them now before the sales and promotions end.

Browse garage sales and thrift stores

As you keep an eye out for sales and promotions in advertisements, do some research on local garage sales and thrift stores as well. Garage sales can be a major resource of clothing and other items on your list. They can be a big success if you can find other families who are selling items their children no longer need or have outgrown.

Resale shops can also be a treasure trove of back-to-school items. From clothes to supplies to sports equipment, it may be worth your time to travel to local thrift stores in your area to browse their selection. You could also use this as an opportunity to sell or donate some of your own items to make a little extra money and clear space in your home.

Team up with other parents

Are you friends with the parents of your children’s friends? Whether you are close companions or casual acquaintances, saving money can bring almost anyone together. Buying in bulk could offer everyone a discount on school supplies and the savings could add up even more if the children are in the same grade.

Another cooperative approach is to appoint certain assignments to each parent. If one parent has a membership to a wholesale store, they can be in charge of finding school supplies. If another parent works at a retail store, they can keep an eye out for sales on shoes and clothing. A unified effort could end up in less spending and closer connections between parents.

Buy quality

Even if the name of the game is to save money, buying the cheapest option available may not always be the best route to take. If you plan for certain items to last longer than one school year, such as a backpack or computer, it may be worth spending the extra money now. For example, if you buy a $15 backpack instead of the $40 option and it rips open after six months, you may end up buying 1-2 more in two-year span. Be mindful that some higher priced items may be worth the investment if the quality is superior.

If you do plan to invest in a quality item, consider the following before making a final decision:

  • Research the company
  • Read online reviews from current owners
  • Look for warranty information

Do your homework

Saving money on school supplies can be achieved by doing your homework and applying what you’ve learned. Hopefully the advice provided in this article helps you get an A+ in smart shopping and saving money!


The information in this article is provided for general education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose. It is not intended to be and does not constitute financial, legal or any other advice specific to you the user or anyone else. The companies and individuals (other than OneMain Financial’s sponsored partners) referred to in this message are not sponsors of, do not endorse, and are not otherwise affiliated with OneMain Financial.