Back to School: The Cheapest Stores and More Ways to Save Money on School Supplies

Back to school time means you have to purchase school supplies. While some kids dread the idea of summer coming to an end, many parents dread having to shop again. Thrive Credit Union understands that school supplies shopping can be difficult, especially when kids are trying to pick a folder with the perfect design. Lists can be large, and the essentials alone can be a huge charge. This is why Thrive wants to help you decide where to begin with shopping tips. Also, we have a list of stores where the essentials are cheap, so you don’t have to worry about making a hole in your pocket deeper than it needs to be.

1. Start early.

Don’t wait until the night before school starts to knockout items on the list. Essentials and specific colors may be picked over toward the end, which means you might not find what your looking for at the first store. Not having a lot of time can add a lot of stress and added expenses.

2. Break up the list.

Don’t think you need to buy every item in one day. Write down ten items you can get at the grocery store this week, the rest of the items you can get alone for the next week and the items that “insert name” has to be there to decide on for another week.

3. Go Online.

Look for online deals and coupons. If you have a low or free shipping account, see if it’s cheaper to order school supplies online.

4. Mark which item’s quality is more important than price.

Buying cheaper pencils may be a smart move if your child usually loses quite a few the first month of school. Whereas with notebooks, you might consider buying the higher priced ones if they’re durable and look like they can make it through an entire school year. One year, I bought notebooks that were 97 cents each. But after a month of constantly stapling pages back into the binding every week because they ripped out easily, I went back to the store to buy more. In some cases, having pages tear out easily is useful. The important point is to understand the purpose of what your buying, and then decide which items are worth paying a little more for before entering the store.

5. See what items you still have from the last school year.

Look around the house for that ruler and see if you have any loose leaf paper packets in the closet from the year before. Also, see if any notebooks still have a lot of blank pages. One label can change an English journal used once into a math notebook or scrap paper for a few months.

6. Plan ahead to avoid buying items that serve the same purpose.

Do you really need to buy a three ring binder, folder, notebook and dividers for each class, along with a huge binder with multiple slots for all the classes? Decide how you want to organize early on. Remember, you can always go back and get an extra binder later on. A teacher might not have included that every student must have a “white” binder for a project during the second month of school on the list.

7. Take freebies and ask around.

See if any of the backpacks your child wants come with a pencil bag too, or if free agendas are given to students at school.

8. Don’t say “it’s only an extra 50 cents.”

Sure, 50 cents doesn’t seem like a lot of money. But it’s silly to shop where each item’s price is 50 cents more than it is at another store. If you buy 30 items that each cost 50 cents more than they do at another store, the receipt will be $15 more than it needs to be.

9. With that being said…

Based off of the chart Thrive found on, Wal-Mart was the cheapest store to buy most of the school supplies on the list. Office Depot was by far the most expensive store and didn’t have some items, along with Staples, needed on the mock list. There can be downsides to shopping at Wal-Mart, so Target may seem like the best place to get everything on the list. But if you really want to save, Wal-Mart is the place. Maybe make a trip to the more expensive stores to purchase a couple unique and extra items your kids want like locker décor. Thrive agrees it’s always smart to check the local dollar stores too.

10. This compares three stores with the lowest prices based off of Passion Penny Pincher’s supply list.