Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thrifty Thursday: Back to School Supplies On The Cheap

In the spirit of Back-To-School season, today's Thrifty Thursday is dedicated to getting all those necessary back to school supplies as cheaply as possible. 

Getting back to school supplies to start school in the fall really isn't that hard.  Most every big box store in the country discounts their school supplies to crazy low prices in the 4-6 weeks immediately prior to schools in the area starting back up.  Therefore, a notebook that might cost $1 in any other month of the year can be purchased in August for 50%-75% less.  However, most people don't take advantage of these incredibly deep discounts and stock up appropriately. 

As with most of my "On The Cheap" posts, you'll find that one of my biggest and most successful tips for frugal living is planning ahead.  Yes, it might take some effort, but it's actually easier than you might think.  Any good chess player will tell you that the key to winning the game is being able to anticipate your next move before you even have to think about making it.  Okay, maybe that's a total fib.  I know nothing about chess. . . but it sounded good, right? 

In that vain, here are my tips for getting all those needed back to school supplies on the cheap:

  • Before even setting foot into any store to actually purchase any school supplies, you should go through the list of what is needed for the upcoming year and see what supplies from that list you can find around your home.  Items like pens and pencils can usually be found in junk drawers and craft supply boxes all around the house.  For kids in younger grades, items such as quart size Ziploc bags, Purell, baby wipes, boxes of Kleenex, Anti-bacterial wipes, etc could even be taken right out of your stockpile if you have one already built up.  So, first things first, check your own home first!  You might be surprised what you can find lurking around without having to spend a dime!
  • Look over kids' supplies from last year to see if they really do need to be replaced before rushing out and purchasing new items.  Backpacks, lunch boxes, pencil boxes, etc don't come with an expiration date.  Unless they truly do need to be replaced, don't spend the money.  Squeeze an extra year out of it, if possible.  For my little guy (just starting Kindergarten this year), I purchased him a backpack that he can grow in to over the next few years.  True, the backpack is going to look quite large on him this year, but it's not like it will ever be loaded down with books or homework so I'm not all that worried about it being too heavy for him.  By buying one on the larger side, I'm getting a little extra mileage out of it.
  • For those items that you do end up needing to replace, go for higher quality over something that's super cheap.  I know that might seem somewhat counterproductive, but it's actually not.  Take a backpack for example. . .sure, you could get one at Walmart for about $10 this time of year but high quality retailers like Lands End or LL Bean have historically started running deals on their backpacks each year in the July/August timeframe.  By purchasing a higher quality backpack on sale for $20 or $30, you might pay double for a nicer backpack than you would otherwise have at Walmart, but you will get SOOO much more use out of it.  Trust me, I've had it both ways.  By time Christmas break rolls around, the Walmart backpack is falling apart at the seams and needs to be replaced.  LL Bean and Lands End both have crazy awesome warranties on their backpacks and they are extremely durable.  I've honestly known kids who have used the same LL Bean or Lands End backpack all the way through high school (and we all know that the high school years truly ARE the best test on backpack durability!) and have never had any problems with their backpack holding up.  Same thing goes for lunch boxes.  For something that is going to be used every day, you really do need to go the quality of quantity route.  Higher $$ now may mean far less $$ down the road on these heavy use items.
  • For supplies that are left over from last year, really analyze what you can do to give them new life.  Unused pages in spiral bound notebooks can be ripped out and put into three ring binders to be used as a fresh notebook or note taking paper.  I am currently in school pursing a degree at a local university and at the end of each semester, I remove the pages from my spiral bound notebooks that I have taken notes on or used for assignments and place them into a folder and store them with my old textbook in case I ever need to reference them later.  Any unused pages are now left behind in the spiral bound notebook and I can use it again for a new class in a different semester.  In all honesty, I have probably only used a total of three spiral bound notebooks in the last year of my classes.  Two classes a semester, three semesters a year. 
  • Next, and this is veeerrrrry important. . . TRY AS HARD AS YOU CAN not to allow yourself to get pulled into the hype.  There are about forty-two bazillion different back to school gadgets and supplies lining those aisles in the very front of each store right about this time of year and it is very easy to fall victim to thinking that you need each and every one of them.  That's what the stores WANT you to think!  However, those nifty school supply lists that are given to you have been created by the people who really know what you need: the teachers.  Stick to the list and you'll be fine.  If you need to, just repeat my mantra "Trust the list."  Easy squeezy!
  • Here's where planning ahead comes into play: when you get the supplies list for what your student (or yourself!) is going to need this upcoming year in the way of school supplies, also get the supply list for the grade one year ahead.  That way, you have one full year to slowly gather the school supplies that you will need to have ready for the following fall.  True, the list could change before next year, but it's not likely to change a whole lot.  The list that you get this year might request 8 glue sticks and your student may actually end up needing 12 by next fall but at least you can get a head start on getting the majority of what your student will need.  Not only do I have the list of what my son will need to have in order to start Kindergarten next week, but I also have the list of what the First grade teachers are asking their students to have this year.  There may end up being a few additional items that I'll have to get next year but now I have a full 12 months to slowly and frugally collect the items on the First grade list so that this time next year won't be a drain on my wallet. 
  • My last tip may seem a little controversial but I'm trusting those who have walked the path before me and choosing to heed their warnings.  I'm being told by all of my very wise Mommy friends that this is the time of year to stock up on those cheap school supplies because apparently, they typically run out mid-year.  Several warriers (i.e. Moms) who have already lived through the elementary school experience have said that throughout the year, teachers will send home notes saying that their children need more XYZ (glue sticks, notebooks, crayons, etc.) and said parents are forced to run out and buy these items at full price during a time of the year where these items are most certainly not at rock bottom prices.  Because of this advice, I have essentially bought double the items that the Kindergarten list is requesting.  For example, Tyler's supply list is requesting 12 glue sticks, I bought 30.  Seeing as how the glue sticks were $.40 each now, and they are usually $1.99 during the year, I am willing to take the chance that I overbought and he may not need them throughout the year at school.  Worst case scenario, they can always be used during summer vacation (when we'll need all the craft supplies we can get our hands on to combat boredom!) or I can just send them back to school with him next year.  At least this way, I have a mini stockpile at home of school supplies that I know have been requested for his classroom and I won't have to rush out and buy them at full price if he ends up needing something at some point during the year. 
So, what about you?  How do you get your school supplies on the cheap?  Anyone else out there feel the same way I do and swear that school supply lists have DOUBLED since we were in school? 

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