Back To School Shopping

School shopping strategies, including buying in bulk, sales, lists, and second hand stores, office supply stores, layaways and rain checks.

Years past, kids, and parent alike looked forward to the shopping associated with the start of school. It meant a trip to town, shopping together for school supplies and clothes, and if there was a little extra, a snack at the Five and Dime provided a perfect ending to this annual outing with the children.

Today, the words "˜school shopping' can strike fear in even the most courageous parents. Whether you have one child or several, lists for every class each child will be in can vary. Folders, notebooks, shoes for everyday wear, another pair for gym class, art supplies, lunch boxes, and the lists go on. The list seems to grow as your child does. Scientific calculators, computer disks, (these are required for even the youngest) specialized art supplies, and some schools even request each child have a computer, at the least access to one outside of school. What is a parent to do? Is it possible to provide everything your child needs academically without having to take out a second mortgage? Yes!

Lists and Buying in Bulk

First, keep every list that is sent home from the teachers and school regarding supplies. Most schools send these home at the end of the year for the following year. This is a great help. If your school does not yet do this, ask if they will for next year. It allows you to spread out your shopping over the whole summer, and gives you the chance to shop sales through the summer. It will also enable you to take savings one step further.

Whether you are in an area that has a warehouse style store or an office supply store, at the least, internet access, contact your children's classmates parents. Inquire of each if they would be interested in purchasing some supplies in bulk. This can generate good overall savings. Items that seem to offer greater savings when purchased in bulk include nearly every item that is available in an office supply type store, computer disks, pens, paper, packs of folders, ink for computer printers, nearly every item. The main thing to remember when going this route is to be clear ahead of time on what the group will be buying.

Remember to make your own list of items that your child will need, besides the lists of classroom supplies that the teachers provided. Items to keep in mind include, backpacks, lunch boxes (these can be quite sophisticated today ranging from plain sacks to insulated fabric bags), organizers, and do not forget software that you feel your child will benefit from.

If you homeschool, you know that you do not escape this frenzy either. Not only do you have many of the same basic supplies to purchase; you must also purchase textbooks and other curriculum. If you are aware of other homeschoolers in your area, buying in bulk can save you a bundle if other parents are willing. It does not hurt to ask, and you may benefit in more ways just from the networking involved in contacting the other parents.

Apparel and Footwear

Buying clothing and shoes is rarely inexpensive. "˜You get what you pay for' does not always apply. Many times, you pay just for a name. Kids love to wear what their peers are wearing, and I would not insist on buying nothing that they want, BUT, limiting this to a few t-shirts or accessories can save you a large amount of money. Buy quality, but do not assume that because an item bears a certain name, this equals quality. Many stores today offer their own brands that are of the same quality or better when it comes to lasting wear, but at a greatly reduced price in comparison to "˜name' brands. Small children can be hard on the basics, like jeans, and the strength of seams, zippers, or thickness of fabric is much more important than the tag name stitched on the back pocket.


Sales are held for everything from groceries to cars, but when it comes to school supplies, sales can be real money savers. School supplies that are on the lists sent home by the schools seem to sell out fast, so if shopping for these, hit the sales early. Compare store ads for items you know your students are going to need. If something is listed and is not available when you get to the store, ask if they are offering rain checks. If you happen to be short of cash when the big sale of the year comes around, see if the store has a layaway. Layaway is also a great way to get all your shopping done in one trip even if you can not afford everything at once. These sales can be a great way to save on those big-ticket items that your students going off to college are going to need, too. Dorm sized microwaves, desks, laundry supplies, towels, are commonly found on sale when the stores run their annual "˜back to school' sales.

Hand me Downs and Second Hand Stores

There is nothing wrong with hand me downs, and do not forget stores such as Goodwill, when planning your shopping. You can often buy new or gently used items. Do not assume that your kids will not wear clothing from these outlets either. Many kids today actually shop these stores themselves on a regular basis. A word of caution though, returns to these stores can be tricky or impossible, so never buy an item unless you know for sure that your child will wear it. No matter how much money you saved on that sweater, if your child will not wear it, it is wasted money.

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