Racking up Super Back-to-School Savings from Kindergarten to College

If you’re in need of any Christmas presents at all, regardless of age or gender, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered! Here in Sugar Land, Texas, my mom and I are known as “the discount ladies” (particularly at our local HEB store). I’m almost positive that our saving frenzies are some kind of addiction.

In fact, just a few days ago, we were organizing our stockpile (that we keep in a 3-bedroom apartment, by the way) and found 39 boxes of unopened cereal, 15 boxes of Ziploc bags, 34 bags of fresh ground coffee, and 9 bottles of unused syrup.

Believe it or not, there is a method to the madness. The concept behind all this is, the cheaper the items are, the more we can buy. The more we buy, the more people we can bless.

Everything we buy in bulk has the sole purpose of being donated or made into gift baskets for family and friends. I actually have two such baskets right next to me as I type this.

Part of that blessing is to share the knowledge with others and since school supplies are growing more expensive by the semester, it’s my God-given duty to share some techniques that I and other ‘professional discounters’ have perfected when it comes to saving money.

Keep it simple

Obviously, the first step in school supply shopping is to obtain the child’s list from the school. What should naturally come next is one of the hardest concepts for parents to enforce: stick to only what’s on the list. It is the retailer’s job to make money so they are going to undoubtedly entice you to purchase things that your child doesn’t necessarily need. But don’t get discouraged! If you save money using the following steps, you just might be able to get your child one or two special items.

Recycle, Reduce, Reuse

The next step is to make sure you shop at the closest location first: your own home. Most parents would be shocked to find out how many supplies their children didn’t use the year prior. I don’t have any children of my own, but I can remember throwing out half used notebooks, fresh erasers, and mounds of loose-leaf paper when I was a kid. (Clearly, I was not the saver I am today). Going through last year’s supplies and salvaging what you can is the perfect place to begin.

The Thrill of the Hunt

Instead of trying to get your items all in one day with the intention of saving time, spend about two hours each week searching for the lowest prices. The reason for this is because different stores run different sales each week.

Just gather your mailbox circulars, lay them out next to each other and hunt for the best prices. Once you find it, circle it and write down the store, price, and sale date on a separate piece of paper. You’ll need that information for an upcoming budget. If two separate stores have the lowest prices for different items, it would make sense go to each one for the best deal.

Crunch Numbers

One of the keys to saving money is making—and sticking to—a budget. A budget’s purpose is to calculate exactly what you’re spending on each item, how much money you’ll have left over, and even how much money you’ve saved when you’re done. Write the exact amount of money you plan to spend on school supplies. Then write down the cost and quantity of each item based on your calculations from the circulars.

Add all the costs together and subtract them from the total and voila! That amount is your extra cash. Speaking of cash, buy as many items with it as possible. Seeing your bills disappear will help you keep better track of your spending.

Know its Value

The above steps help find the lowest priced items, but sometimes the lower price comes with lower quality. Avoid buying things like crayons, pens, and calculators at dollar stores and other cheap retailers. Stick to quality names like Crayola, Bic, and Texas Instruments. These might dip into your extra cash flow, but they are higher quality and will save you money on repeat or replacement purchases. Depending on the item, they could even be used for the next few years, saving money in the long run. With most other items, the lowest price is still the way to go.

Buy in Bulk

Remember when buying the lowest priced items to also buy in bulk whenever possible. This, too, will save money.  Once your child’s markers dry out or crayons break, you will have replacements that you didn’t have to buy at retail price. Buying in bulk is one of my specialties and has personally saved me thousands of dollars.

Additionally, some states have tax-free days in August and September so that parents can buy school supplies and some electronics (college students, this is where you come in.) without paying any sales tax. The lower the tax, the more you can buy. Find out when your tax-free day is and take advantage of it.

Shoestring Budget

If you’re a college student reading this, be encouraged. I am a college student as well and I can assure you these techniques work. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the thing puts the biggest dent in the college budget: textbooks. I can say from experience that it is definitely possible to cut spending corners here. I find the lowest priced books on BarnesandNoble.com. I use their trusted booksellers and save 85% on average.

I have also found renting textbooks to be the cheapest option, especially if you don’t plan on keeping the book afterward. For that, I stick to Barnes and Noble, Bookbyte, and Chegg. If you choose one of these, look for free shipping and make sure to Google for coupon codes for additional savings at checkout.

Paying Uncle Sam

Eventually, the stores are going to demand money from you. But fear not!  There are many more ways to save. One of those is through the use of traditional coupons. This involves matching weekly coupons with the circulars and store savings. If you’ve seen coupon savvy shows on television, it may seem like a long and complicated process. But it’s really fairly basic. Find. Match. Clip. Use.

After trying it a few times, you’ll get the hang of it.  Back to school shopping is the perfect time to start. There are also non-traditional coupons that most of you can get on your phone (provided yours has internet access, unlike mine). Try following retailers on Twitter, ‘liking’ them on Facebook, or using the site eBates to get save money or get cash back on purchases.

While shopping for school supplies can be stressful, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Whether you’re a parent looking to expand the family’s cash flow or a college student struggling to live on a limited budget, the above steps can help you save lots of money during the coming school year, essentially putting money back in your pocket.