Maximize Your School Supply Savings With These Handy Tips

Pupils in school working and drawing in their notebooks.
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As we enter the “Sunday evening of the summer,” aka August, many parents are beginning to think about back-to-school shopping. In fact, a survey from TopCashback.com revealed that 36% of adults (aged 18 and over) begin shopping in late summer.

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Of the 1,933 individuals polled, 32% start in the middle of summer. One-quarter of respondents shop throughout the year, presumably to help supplies fit into their budget better and snag savings when they see it. Only 7% start shopping shortly after the prior school year ends.

Big box stores like Target and Wal-mart, as well as sites like Amazon, are also thinking about school shopping and starting to roll out the deals this week, making it a prime time to begin your back-to-school shopping. According to the TopCashback.com survey, 79% of those polled plan to save money by shopping sales.

Rebecca Gramuglia, consumer expert at TopCashback.com, offered a few tips to find the best deals. “With so many back-to-school sales happening at once, be sure to take advantage of as many deals and discounts as you can. Keep track of online promotions by signing up for email lists, noting TV advertisements and grabbing the stores’ circulars every time you shop.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Joye Hehn, Next Step financial education manager for Regions Bank, agrees, “Make a list and check for sales and coupons online before you go shopping.”

GOBankingRates did some of the work for you, taking a look at some of the top brick-and-mortar stores for school shopping to find the best sales right now, since that’s where 49% of shoppers said they plan to make most of their purchases.

Shop the Sales at Target

Target, which devotes an entire seasonal section of its store to back-to-school, is a perfect place to complete your school shopping in one stop. A glimpse at the deals for this week (good through Saturday, August 21), include:

  • 3-ring binders starting at $3.49 for a 1-inch binder
  • 175-count loose-leaf paper, 99 cents
  • 24-count Crayola crayons, 50 cents
  • 2-pack Elmer’s glue sticks, 50 cents
  • 100 Index cards, 49 cents
  • 24-ct No. 2 pencils, 99 cents
  • 2-ct. pink erasers, 49 cents

Helpful tip: Look for the Up & Up brand on many items for savings over name brands. You can also use your Target debit or Target credit card for an additional 5% off. As the month wears on, Target may introduce additional deals. The prices listed are amongst the lowest we’ve seen right now for these supplies.

Check Back for Sales At Walmart

Walmart is also well known for its back-to-school sales, but in a quick comparison of their sales for this week, only the two-pocket folders, selling for 15 cents, beat out Target’s prices.

“Main point to note is that prices change throughout the season and you don’t know when a particular item goes on sale,” observed Siva Mahesh, CEO, of Dreamshala.com. “Shop early to get the best deals and don’t buy everything at once,” he says.

Tanya Peterson, Vice President of Brand at Freedom Financial Network, agrees that you don’t have to buy everything at once, but doesn’t suggest hurrying to finish early. “It may sound counterintuitive,” she says, “but sometimes there are supplies on the list that kids won’t need right off the bat. If you can wait to purchase these, clearance sales usually begin right after school starts. And with so many different start dates this fall, it pays to keep your eye out for these sales.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Count on Staples for Sales

Parents can typically count on Staples to knock most of the items off their back-to-school shopping list. While notebooks may drop to 25 cents as September gets closer, right now, the office supply store is offering both composition books and 1-subject spiral notebooks just 50 cents each.

If you don’t want to settle for store brand pencils, Staples has some good sales on Ticonderoga, a brand often requested by teachers. The 24-pack is just $3.99 right now, reduced from $7.29. That represents a 45% savings. Meanwhile, the 96-pack of pencils is on sale for 25% off. While conventional wisdom may lead you to believe you’ll save money buying in bulk, be sure to compare unit prices, Peterson warns. “Buy in bulk only when it makes sense,” she says.

If You Buy in Bulk, Share the Savings

Peterson brings up another important point about buying in bulk. “No matter how great the deal is, be realistic about what you buy,” she says. “Will your child really need 50 pens or 100 folders?”

“Bulk buying at a membership club might make sense if you’re buying for multiple children or can split supplies and expenses with a friend,” says Hehn.

If you have extra money in your budget, you might consider buying in bulk and donating a portion of the items to your child’s classroom to help out when supplies start to dwindle mid-year. You could also look for opportunities to donate new school supplies within your community to help families in need start the school year with the necessary supplies.

Discover: Back-to-School Spending Is Up This Year: Here’s Where You Should Cut Costs First

Use Coupons and Shopping Apps to Help You Save

According to the TopCashback survey, 63% of those polled said they planned to use coupons to shave their back-to-school shopping bills. However, if you’re looking to combine coupons with sale prices, be sure to do your homework, Gramuglia advises.

“Make note that sometimes sale items won’t qualify for additional discounts, so be sure to factor that in when deciding which store to shop at,” she says.

Take Advantage of Cashback Opportunities

Once you’ve maximized your savings, you can start looking for ways to earn cash back. Seventy-three percent of shoppers polled said they intend to use a cashback website, such as TopCashback.com or Rakuten, for their purchases.

You may also consider shopping using Bumped, an online brokerage and tech company that offers rewards with a twist. Shoppers can earn fractional shares of stocks by purchasing online through the app or with a credit or debit card linked to the app in stores like Walmart, Office Depot, Staples and others. The company says it is currently offering users increased percentages in stock rewards for back-to-school shopping in retail, office supplies, technology and more.

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Avoid Debt

If you’re using a cashback credit card to cover your school shopping, it can be tempting to purchase more than you need — or more than you can afford.

To avoid overspending, Hehn says, “Begin by evaluating each child’s needs and purchasing appropriately. Then, cross-check your cart with your list and your budget before you check out to confirm you have what you need and to give yourself a chance to resist impulse buys.”

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About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of GeekTravelGuide.net, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.

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