Saturday, July 29, 2017

3 Back to School Shopping Tips

It seems like each summer we are out of school for about 3 or maybe even 4 weeks before the 'Back to School' products start popping up. At that point in the summer I'm enjoying the relaxed schedule, sleeping in later and I want to ignore the ads that tell me to get prepared by purchasing mounds of paper, binders, and crayons. Once 4th of July is over the stores really ramp it up and then it's unavoidable.

Here we are with just 2 weeks left of summer and Meet the Teacher is around the corner. The supply lists have been posted and it's really time to start getting ready. As this is my 8th year getting kids back to school, here are a three of my best tips on how not to break the bank on school supplies.

Tip #1: Shop at Home

Now, I'm sure there will be some online shopping happening this year, but that's not what I mean. The supplies the kids need may be already in your own home. We raid our drawers and closets to take inventory of what we already have before we head to the stores. We bring out all our leftover supplies from last year, all the items we've gotten in the meantime and pretty much anything that could be used another year.

Once it's all sorted into piles we test out the markers, sort the crayons back into 24 packs, and check to make sure the glue sticks haven't dried out.

Then we take a look at our school supplies lists and the kids go 'shopping' to find what they can reuse and cross off their lists. I talk to the teachers to make sure that they don't need a 'new' pair of scissors or brand new pencil pouch, but it's amazing what you can find around your own house that still has plenty of life in it. Of course, the stores want us to believe that we need to have a brand new pack of pencils, but I probably won't need to buy more since we already have 50 pencils at home that we've acquired through the year at birthday parties, from fundraisers, and carnivals. Some things that are consumable like crayons and glue sticks we do buy new but we like to have a box set up with those things at home so the kids can do homework easily with the supplies all in one place. 

Tip #2: Invest in quality on bigger purchases

When it came to purchasing a backpack, I knew I wanted our kids to get a JanSport because it had a lifetime guarantee. So even though it was a little more money up front, we purchased one backpack that lasted our kids from Kindergarten to 5th grade. The zipper on one of ours came off one year and we shipped it to them and they fixed it up and sent it back at no charge. Last year we upgraded our daughter to a larger backpack when she went to middle school and we are hoping she gets several years out of that one also. Her old backpack doubles as an overnight bag or to store her stuff when we go on road trips. So if it's something your child will need for many school years (lunch box, calculator) consider spending a little more the first time you buy it so you don't have to buy another one next year.

Most of the things I do come from trying to live economically, but it's also good for our planet to reuse instead of buying new. It also helps our kids because we are teaching them not to listen to the marketers who say we need more stuff when what we have works just fine.

Tip #3: Shop the sales at different stores and different weeks

About the most expensive thing you can do when it comes to back to school shopping is pick up a list from the front door of a store and check it all off while you are there. Now, time is money and if you don't have the time then that's what you have to do. But, if you have a little more time you can save a lot of money by shopping the sales and doing your shopping over several weeks at different stores.

My go to store is Office Depot/Max because of their weekly specials and amazing deals. Each week in the Back to School season they have deals starting at 1 cent. Seriously. 1 cent. The only conditions are that you can purchase a max of 3 of the item and your total purchase has to be over $5. I often will pair the 1 cent deals with the $1 deals, which are also amazing. Here's my purchase from today:
With deals this good I purchase the items even if it's not on my kids' lists because I know I may be able to use them next year or I can donate them. It's only costing me a cent or a buck to pick up an extra pack of erasers or Sharpies but it's saving teachers a bunch when they can only purchase 3 but they need 30. We also use the extra stuff in our Operation Christmas Child boxes. I got those same pencil boxes last year even though my kids didn't need them and we packed them up with supplies and sent them to a needy child across the world.

In this trip I grabbed a pack of their premium paper that is normally $9.99, reduced to $5.25. I will get $5 back in their rewards program effectively reducing my cost for all the above to $5.34 before tax. I'm not usually a fan of 'get rewards back later' so I make sure it's already a good deal before I purchase it. But with a lot of school shopping left to do I'm sure I'll be able to find something to spend the money on next month.

Update Week 2: Here's what I used the $5 towards, it was super easy. I just told them at the register I had rewards to use and it took $5 off. Next trip I'll have $49.95 to spend. I also stacked my purchase with a 30% off coupon I got in my email from them.

Last year I was able to walk in and get these deals just by looking on the advertisement. Some sell out quickly so going on Sunday became a habit for me. This year I joined their email list and was able to get more deals in their email than were advertised to the public. Next week they have paper listed as a 1 cent deal so I will be stocking up (see above!).

The other part of is to shop at different stores and check around for the best prices. Last year I found the best deal on a calculator and 12 tab dividers on Amazon and Crayola crayons for 25 cents at Walmart. So don't just stick to one store if you want the best deals.

With all the money I'm saving, maybe I'll treat myself to a trip to the spa once the kids are back in school!

Update: Week 3 
Purchased all this tonight and didn't pay a penny! The paper deals are available each week and so I'm expecting to get $29.95 back in rewards even though I used rewards from last week's purchase to get all this for free.

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