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My Cheap School Supplies Hacks (Always Save BIG)

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School is fast upon us (or maybe it has already started) and no matter if your child is attending elementary school for the first time or you’re entering your third year at college, there’s one thing for certain… school supplies are mandatory.

If you’re on a budget or you’re anything like me, it’s always about saving money, the main reason I wanted to create this guide.

So, in today’s post, I wanted to talk about the many ways you can find cheap school supplies, both online as well as in-person.  I’m also going to include some great hacks I have personally used to help save more than 50% on my trips.

Hopefully, in following these tips, I can only hope you can save a lot more than you have imagined.

Cheap School Supplies Hacks

Before I even get into the best stores to shop, I want to throw out a few hacks you can take advantage of to maximize your savings.  In applying these strategies and making a habit in doing so, there’s no reason you can’t save a ton of money every school season.

Download Ibotta

I have mentioned Ibotta many times, particularly in my free money right now and best apps to earn a gift card posts and highly recommend you download it whenever you do any type of shopping that spits out a receipt, not just school supply shopping.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, the app will pay you to upload receipts from certain retailers for certain products.  For example, Ibotta may pay you $0.50 if you purchase a certain pack of pens from a certain retailer and upload your receipt.  There are a lot of Ibotta alternatives, so I encourage you to check out this list to see how many apps are willing to pay you to upload receipts as Ibotta isn’t the only game in town.   All of these savings add up, no matter what you’re shopping for.



Know the Cheapest Prices

No matter when you’re shopping for school supplies, it’s always best to know the cheapest prices on the market right now.  For that reason, I highly recommend you download the KCL back-to-school stock-up list to keep up to date.  It’s free and is always up to date.

I will mention it a few times, but basically, the website does a great job scouring the prices from popular retailers and jotting down the cheapest prices they found.  If you can find items for that prices or can even beat it, then you should feel confident in stocking up at that price.  Keep in mind that these prices will be the most aggressive during the back-to-school months.

In the past, for example, the cheapest pencils they found were $0.25 at Staples, whereas crayons were as little as $0.50 per 24-pack at Walmart.

Always Shop Back-to-School Sales

I know it may be too late, but if you know buying school supplies will be a recurring adventure, then it’s so important to purchase them during the back-to-school sales.  During this time, retailers often offer so many options, most of which are 50 to 75% off the regular retail value.  Throw in some coupons or even cashback online and you’re really talking savings.  As all states are different in the times they go back to school, the sales generally start about two to four weeks before the first day of school, but you can almost always find the sale ad ahead of time.  When it’s about four weeks before school starts, check with the retailers I mention below to see if they have any circular ads online to see if you can find any back-to-school sale mentions.

Coupons!

Whether it’s store- or name-brand items, you should be able to find coupons online that you can print from home.  One of my favorites, The Krazy Coupon Lady, for example, does a wonderful job breaking down the popular categories, letting you know about all of the active coupons at the moment.  You can even check out her store matchups for the week to see which items are for sale as well as which coupons you can use for those sale items at the moment to save big.  Even if it’s not a back-to-school sale, you can almost always use coupons and match it up against a sale item to save more than 50%.  No matter what you buy locally, always make it a habit to at least search for coupons to see if any are available as you may be surprised as to what’s out there.

Know If Your State Has a Tax Free Time

There are quite a few states that have a designated time throughout the year where they allow you to buy certain items, like school supplies, with no state tax applied.  While the states and the times are very limited, usually no more than a few days a year, it could save you up to 8% on your purchase!  Hey, it all adds up.

At the time of this publishing, here were the states that are currently offering tax-free buying opportunities…

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Iowa
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia

Even if you don’t live in these states, you can still take advantage of these tax-free days; you just need to know when it’s happening.  As the times always change, I recommend you Google “the state + tax-free back to school shopping dates + the current year.”

Buy Discounted Gift Cards

No matter where you plan on doing your shopping, make sure you buy discounted gift cards ahead of time.  Raise and CardPool are both great opportunities to save as much as 20% on a gift card, but it could be much less depending upon the retailer you choose.  Usually, the higher it is in demand, like Amazon, the less you will save.  However, saving is almost always possible.  If you know you’re going to make a purchase in the future for almost anything, I always encourage you to at least plan in advance to save as discounted gift cards are a no brainer.

Watch the Weekly Ad Date

Almost all retailers launch their ad a few days before the sale goes live, usually on a Sunday.  If you really see a deal and you know it’s going to be a good one, I recommend heading to the store as early as you can on that Sunday morning or whenever the sale starts.   While most of these retailers are great at restocking, some hot-selling items aren’t always there.



Price Match!

If you’re loyal to a certain retailer or you found that one store doesn’t have your item and another one does, then you may want to consider price matching as a lot of retailers do so, even on back-to-school sales.  Some retailers will even match the price and beat it by a certain percentage!  Staples, for instance, will match the price and beat it by another 10%.  Just make sure that when you do price match that you read the fine print to know what you can and cannot price match.  While most price matching rules are lax, as long as it’s the same item, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Set a Slickdeals Alert

If you’re not familiar with Slickdeals, it’s basically the biggest deals website online where the community finds deals, posts them and then others give it a thumbs up.  The more thumbs up, the higher it can rank.  Slickdeals is awesome for just about any deal you’re looking for, including back-to-school supplies, but to take advantage of this website, I just recommend you set a deal alert so that it alerts you anytime a great deal comes up, you get to know about it first.

Always Shop Through a Cash Back Portal

Whenever you make a purchase online, always make it a habit to at least check out the many cashback portals before making a purchase.  In short, these websites will give you a certain percentage back whenever you click on a shopping link.  That’s it.  Ebates is one of my favorites, but there are many others out there as well.

Where to Buy Cheap School Supplies (Online & In Store)

Now that you know of the many ways to save, I wanted to now talk about the most popular retailers both online and in store.  Most of the companies I’m about to mention almost always have great school supply deals.

Staples

In the past, Staples almost always had a variety of school supplies for only a penny during its back-to-school sales, but sadly, this has stopped over time.  While they do run some pretty cheap deals, you can find school supplies for as little as $0.25 during the back-to-school days.  For instance, while I’m writing this, they were offering $0.25 notebooks, $0.50 folders, $1.92 binders and much more.

During the back-to-school season, be sure to check out both the website as well as the local circular to see what kind of deals they are currently running.  If you’re only interested in the cheaper goods, then it would make sense to purchase in the store rather than online to save on shipping costs.  If it’s outside the back-to-school time, then the deals can be there, but it won’t be as many as you think.

TIP:  Staples almost always has a coupon available.   You can find them often on eBay, in a local circular or even by signing up for their emails.  Searching can work sometimes, too!

Walmart

During the back-to-school season, Walmart stocks the front of its stores from top to bottom for all of the essentials you need, and from my research, it’s almost the best place to buy school supplies.   By far, it’s my #1 choice.

This year, for instance, Walmart had crayons for $0.50 and four-ounce glue bottles for the same price.  They had quite a bit for less than $1, making for a great choice to consider your back-to-school shopping.  If you do plan on buying online, Walmart will offer free next day shipping on orders of $35.  Don’t forget to use eBates as you can get cash back just for clicking on their special link if you plan on shopping online.  I only recommend this route, however, if you plan on purchasing more than $35 in goods.

TIP:  To ensure that you’re saving enough, refer to this very handy back-to-school guide to see the lowest prices ever posted.  This is the best time to stock up on cheap school supplies.  If your back-to-school item is cheaper or as cheap as what’s noted, then it’s wise to stock up.

Dollar Tree

If you don’t have the patience to wait for back-to-school sales or even missed out, then let it be known that the Dollar Tree always has school supplies for, yes, $1.  While there’s quite the selection at local stores, from binders to paper and pencils, you can also buy school supplies in bulk at any time from the company’s official website.  The only downfall, however, is that you will need to buy in bulk if purchasing online, usually 24 items or more at a time.  Nonetheless, seeing everything is always a $1, it’s a go-to whenever.

TIP:  Remember that coupon tip I mentioned earlier?  The Dollar Tree does accept coupons, often making those $1 items 100% free!  For example, in the past, I found a $1 off any 1 Bic stationery product.

Amazon

Amazon almost always has cheaper school supplies with prices greatly varying on the time of the year.  Unlike a lot of the retailers I already mentioned, Amazon almost always has the cheapest prices online.  If you have a certain item/s in mind and insist that you purchase it from Amazon, I highly recommend you use the price history tool, CamelCamelCamel to find out the cheapest price ever priced on that item.  Just copy the Amazon URL into the tracker and you will be able to view the free report.  This gives you a great idea as to whether or not what you’re purchasing is a great deal or not.  Aside from this method, Amazon almost always offers great lightning deals via this link, but do be forewarned that they go fast.

TIP:  Before you hit the buy button on Amazon, be sure to see how you can get cashback on Amazon.  Yes, it possible to get up to 10% off!

Target

Target is another great option, offering just as many deals as Walmart during the back-to-school season, especially the Target branded items.  From school supplies to school uniforms, the prices are quite comparable to that of Walmart.  I would say it falls in a close second. One big perk, at least for my family, is that Target does offer a 15% off most school supplies as long as you register online and have proof of being a teacher (ID, etc).  This is a very limited time of year, but you can either have Target alert you through email or even look out for a school news bulletin at your workplace.  Even if you’re not a teacher, that’s okay as the store offers the great Cartwheel app that’s jammed packed with great deals and coupons all throughout the year.  Be sure to download this if you find yourself shopping at Target, no matter what time of year.

TIP:  Apply for the Target REDcard and link either your debit card or apply for a credit card to get 5% off your purchases every time you shop in the store and/or at Target.com.

Hollar

If you’re familiar with the Wish app, Hollar is similar to it in a way.  Picture Hollar almost like an online discount store that offers thousands of name-branded items for a very low cost.  The only reason I list it here is that you can always find a ton of supplies, from $5 character backpacks to $1 pencils and pens.  There’s a lot to choose from.  The website has its own back to school section and seems to always be offering the lowest prices, making for a great choice if it’s no currently the back-to-school season.

DollarDays

DollarDays.com is similar to that of Dollar Tree, but you can find items for a lot less than a $1.  I found pencils as little as $0.07 each!  While you do have to often commit to as many as 100+ items at a time just like the Dollar Tree online, some could be worth the investment such as folders, glue sticks, pencils, etc.  Check out the list to see if anything is of value.  Who knows?  You could always ask a few school friends if they need anything as well.



Craigslist, Facebook Groups and/or Freecycle

All of these websites are fantastic options if you’re looking for free or even discounted school supplies.  For example, on Craigslist, consider checking out the free section to see if anyone is posting anything worth taking.  Keep in mind that if there is something, it goes quick.  As for Facebook Groups, this can work to your advantage as well.  Just join a local Facebook Group if you haven’t done so already and use the search feature to see if anyone is giving away school supplies for a low cost, if not free.  You can also make a request to see if anyone is willing to make a donation, but  I would only recommend this route if you’re having financial problems.

Final Thoughts

If you’re shopping for school supplies, there’s no reason you can save a ton of cash.  Even if you’re not shopping during the back-to-school months, there are ways to do so.  However, to maximize your savings, I do recommend Walmart and Target during the back-to-school sales.  Use the cashback apps, coupons and you’re really saving some cash.

In following my tips, I really hope you can save a ton of money.  It takes a bit of time to research, but the amount you save often offsets your hourly investment.  It’s worth it, trust me!

As always, if you have any tips you’d like to share with the community, feel free to do so in the comments below!

In the meantime, apply these tips to find the cheapest school supplies in town.

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Tom Nathaniel

Hi! My name is Tom Nathaniel, and I created LushDollar to help share my honest thoughts on everything money. It's the Internet's most honest money site after all. Working in the finance industry for more than a decade, allow me to share my thoughts! If you ever have questions, feel free to contact me via the contact page.

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