It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas. Its Back-to-School season!! The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $29.5 billion in the next few weeks to get ready for school. Billion. And just like Christmas, Back-to-School seems to start earlier and earlier each year. (My grocery store’s section was up 3 weeks after school ended.)Americans will spend $29.5 billion in the next few weeks to get ready for school. Click To Tweet
Most teachers LURVE school supply shopping and I am no exception. I get giddy when shiny, new supplies show up in the stores. I spend Sunday mornings poring over the sales circulars and dreaming of new pens, notebooks, and scissors.
But I know that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for school supply shopping. In fact, I have heard rumors that some people hate it. And I get it. Back-to-school (BTS) shopping is expensive, can be frustrating, and often requires multiple trips to stores for a random item. Boo!
And it only gets more expensive and harder as your child gets older. Most high schoolers won’t know what supplies they need until school actually starts. That’s means you have to go back to the store again! And then your child has a schedule change, a new teacher, and different supply requirements.
Take a deep breath! I am ready to help you through the craziness of the next few weeks. Let’s start with my general tips for BTS shopping. As a teacher, I shopped every year for my classroom. My goal was to spend as little as possible, while getting all the supplies I need. Here’s how I did it!
(Before we dive in, go ahead and grab the FREE checklist I created. You’ll need it for Tip #1 below!)
Tips for Back-to-School Shopping with your Teen
Take an inventory of what you already have.
You probably already have half of the items you need floating around your house. The backpack from last year still functions. So does the lunch bag. There are definitely pencils, pens, and highlighters left from last year, too. Dig them out from the closet or under the bed.
Prioritize your spending
Go through the supply list and decide which items are the most important and expensive. If your kiddo needs a graphing calculator, it’s probably best to reuse the backpack from last year. If the required supplies aren’t that expensive, maybe he can get a few more fun items.
Create a shopping list and budget
And stick to it. Believe me, I know that it is easy to buy more than you need. Glitter pens! Stickers! Colorful journals! It is easier to limit overspending if your teen knows going in what she needs and how much money you can spend. I also recommend making the list and budget with your teen.
Work the sales
Target, Staples, Office Depot, and Wal-Mart all have good sales on BTS items. Get the Sunday paper or check the sales circulars online. If you don’t coupon, start. Pick up the Sunday paper for the next few weeks and check coupon sites like Coupon Mom or The Krazy Coupon Lady for the best sales. I get supplies for free or pennies every year using coupons. Target’s Cartwheel app also lets you stack discounts with coupons. It’s worth the time to download and scroll through!
Buy generic/ and or plain
There are only a few products that I will buy the brand name (Hi Elmer’s glue!). Almost everything I buy is generic – pencils, scissors, notebooks, binders, etc. In most cases, you are paying for the brand name or the cute design. However, a plain folder works just as well as the adorable one with the donut on it. This can be a tough one with kids. However, if you made a budget (see above), you can usually convince them to be frugal.
As I mentioned earlier, while middle schools often still provide supply lists, most high schools do not. Why? Teachers have individuals requirements and student schedules usually aren’t finalized until a week or 2 before school starts. So, the school can’t give you a lots of heads up about what specific supplies your child will need. However, you can make some assumptions about what to buy. (And in case you’re wrong, keep that receipt!!)
To help you prioritize, I’ve divided the list into 3 categories – must have, should have, and nice to have. To make your life even easier, grab my BTS shopping checklist and head to the store!
These items always show up on supply lists. Buy them now while the sales are good and the color choices are decent.
Remember – smaller is better. Yes, the big ones are SOOOO tempting, but realize they can also quickly become a trashcan of crumpled papers, leftover lunches, and sweaty gym uniforms. Unless your kid is super organized, buy the smaller backpack.
My requirements for an academic planner: full-size so there is plenty of space to write down assignments, hole-punched so it can go in a binder, and space to add extra-curricular activities. I have looked at LOTS of planners in LOTS of places and only 1 achieves all these requirements – the Academic Planner from Order Out of Chaos.
Just a head’s up – This is an affiliate link. If you click on the link and buy an item, I earn a small commission. This doesn’t cost you anything. As always, I only recommend products I use and love. Thanks for your support!
You can bet that a few teachers will require binders. Buy what you think you might need, but keep the receipt. If you can, I highly recommend using 1 big binder for all your classes.
I love dividers with pockets because then you don’t need to add a folder to the binder. Just my personal preference, though. You can also easily make these yourself using colored printer paper and sticky notes.
Grab 1 folder with pockets to set up your homework folder.
Hole punched so it can go in a binder. Flat pouches, as opposed to boxy ones, are easier to pack in your backpack.
Generic pencils work just as well as the fancy ones. And there are ALWAYS coupons in the newspaper. I haven’t paid for plain blue or black pens in years. If your teen loves colored pens like I do, I recommend Inkjoy pens. They have great color and last forever.
Highlighters have so many uses, such as note-taking and organizing a student planner.
This is WAY cheaper to buy during BTS. (I found this out the hard way.) Stock up now.
These items help kids work more efficiently. If you have room in the budget, think about buying them. Most teachers keep limited quantities of these items in the classroom for student use, though. (Keep in mind that teachers spend their own money to buy supplies. They can’t buy supplies for 100-150 students.)
We used sticky notes ALL THE TIME in my classroom. Note-taking, text annotations, jotting down notes, warmups and cooldowns – just to name a few.
Middle and high schoolers cut more paper than you would think.
Markers/ Colored Pencils
Middle and high schoolers color more than you would think.
Many kids use the erasers on their pencils super fast and need something larger to use. Those pink erasers from your childhood are perfect.
Completely required for math and science classes at the higher levels. Most high schoolers will have to get a pricey graphing calculator at some point. However, prior to that, a nice scientific calculator will work just fine. They are reasonably priced and tend to last forever. (I had the same one for over 10 years!)
Nice to Have
None of these are required or really necessary, but they make life easier. If you have the budget, consider purchasing these items.
Glue stick or tape
Many teachers use interactive notebooks which require kids to glue papers into a composition or spiral notebook.The best prices of the year happen during BTS. Buy a bunch now. This is one of the few school supply products that I recommend you buy brand name. I have tried LOTS of generic glue and tape – it’s a waste of money. The brand name product is worth the extra price.
In my last school, I was the only teacher with a pencil sharpener. Kids came from the other side of the building to use it. And don’t get me started with the kid who has to use the electric pencil sharpener during a test. Just buy a $1 sharpener and be done with it.
Save the planet, yo. Many schools are installing water bottle fillers that make life much easier (and cleaner!)
Keep on saving the planet one paper or plastic sack at a time.
Hopefully, these tips and the shopping list help you save time and money this Back-to-School season! Let me know how it goes in the comments below!