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How to Save on Back to School Supplies

Posted on 8/3/2011 13:25 EST

The cost of school supplies has gone up by as much as 12% in some areas of the country. That's a whole lot of Sharpies! Obviously, some of the items requested by your kids' teachers, like graphing calculators and flash drives, are pricey no matter what. Still, cheap school supplies are easy enough to find if your sights are focused on smaller, more generic products.

Photo by o5com

Target is a go-to store for many parents who say discounts on notebooks, pens, and other necessities run deep. "I'm not a couponer," says Sally Cushmore, the mother of a fourth-grader whose family lives outside of Philadelphia, "but Target usually has everything we need and it's reasonably priced. The list of items gets longer every year!" A mom posting on BlogHer says she scored cheap school supplies, including a two-pack of markers for 12 cents, at Target by using the store's printable online coupons along with the blog Totally Target. The store's dollar bin also offers a treasure trove of cheap school supplies, like erasers, pens, and small notepads.

Michelle Schindledecker, mother of a recent high school graduate, pursues a different strategy. She always waits a week into the school year before buying cheap school supplies because that's when drugstores in her Manchester, NJ area offer deep discounts to clear out stock. If you prefer to get a jump on things, some retailers are already knocking down prices on school-related items. At Rite Aid, for example, staples like notebooks, pens, lunchboxes, and book bags are going for 50% off. A&P often runs sales on notebooks -- priced as low as 10 cents -- before school starts, Ms. Schindledecker reports. Then, too, there's always Walmart for cheap school supplies; right now notebooks are going for 20 cents each and the retailer is offering to match competitors' advertised prices for a host of products.

Photo by ukeig

With gas prices what they are, you probably want to do your homework before driving all over town looking for the cheapest school supplies. The blog Fabulously Frugal keeps a running list of how much school supplies cost by store so you can comparison shop from the comfort of home. Your Retailer Helper provides a similar run-down. In a site by site comparison, we see that different stores offer the best deals on different items. Walmart, for instance, has the cheapest folders, at 5 cents for two-pocket folders. Office Depot has its Penny Savers deals that literally cost one cent for some back-to-school necessities. Office Max is almost giving away backpacks with the equivalent of a 100% rebate in the form of MaxPerks Bonus Rewards. (Check out our guide to the best cheap rolling backpacks.) Stores like Staples are offering a $10 "pass" that lets you save 15% on every school supply purchased throughout the fall.

Frugal parents know that the best cheap school supplies are free, and these you can nab by using sites such as Swap.com and Swap Mamas, which offer book bags, calculators, clothes, and more for nothing. Type in the items you want or those you're offering to switch with someone who lives nearby. Don't forget about garage and yard sales for gently-used cheap school supplies. Read our post on the apps for finding yard sales near you.

Photo by Elle *

Once you're out and about, your smartphone is an invaluable resource for locating the best cheap school supplies. The app RedLaser lets you scan bar codes to see if there's a better deal someplace else. We also recommend best coupon sites and their corresponding coupon apps review for finding the best deals on cheap school supplies at your favorite retailers.

Some parents get a line on cheap school supplies from group buying sites. By way of example, the Chicago Tribune reported that Chicago's school district and Groupon recently partnered up to offer $12 school supply kits (notebooks, pencils, and folders) to low-income kids. Although this deal is now over, similar offerings may crop up in your area if there's a high concentration of underserved students.

Other tips for saving on school supplies: Wait for a tax-free day; 16 states become your friend for a day by forgoing the sales tax. Wait until Labor Day to shop for clothes; this is when the deepest discounts often show up. Buy in bulk; large quantities of things like pens and paper are very cheap at wholesale clubs -- think Costco, Sam's Club, and BJ's.

Filed in: Apps, Back to School, Children, Frugal tips, Kids, School
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