My daughter is going to kindergarten this year. I remember vividly the excitement and anticipation of back to school as a kid, and school supply shopping was always one of my favorite parts. While having to pay for everything with my own money this time around isn’t awesome, the experience has been just as much fun. Now before you go all “First time mom thinks she knows everything” on me, I was an avid couponer during the time I was a stay at home mom so this ain’t my first bargain rodeo. My days as a semi-professional couponer may be over (you can read about them here), but the thrill of finding the best deal is still alive and well! I’ve picked up tips from veteran school moms, couponing blogs, and a few of my own along the way.
1. Start early and look often.
The first thing I learned came about by accident. In my back to school excitement, I found some great deals by starting in May. I wanted to find a backpack that would last a few years and snagged a great deal online at Land’s End for less than $10! The matching lunch box was just under $5. I was also able to find a comfy, knit peacoat in school approved navy for $9. I starting looking at uniform options around that time, as well. I happened to find a great sale online at JC Penney and picked up IZOD navy jumpers for $10 each and skirts for $7 each. To top it off, they were doing 12% cash back with Ebates! If you like to shop online, Ebates is a great way to get money back for the things you’re already buying. It offers cash back on hundreds of stores when you order by going to the store through the Ebates app or website. Each quarter, they send you the cash back you’ve earned. There are even a few places that will give you cash back for shopping in store! I added in some super-soft $4.99 polos from Academy, and I was good to go! Lots of friends also suggested Old Navy for uniforms as they have major back to school sales like buy one get one free and $3 polo days. Another great thing about starting early is that if you find something you love, you have time to keep an eye out for sales. If you like to go the pre-owned route, you should have plenty of time to find pieces if you start early. The PTA at my daughter’s school is even hosting a pre-owned uniform sale this summer!
2. Don’t be afraid to visit multiple stores (and maybe the same ones multiple times).
There are two kinds of back to school shoppers. The ones who go into one store with a list and buy everything at once. And the ones who insist on getting the best deal on every individual item no matter the time and energy. So what exactly has that looked like for me? After Fourth of July weekend, it was on. It all starts with checking out the weekly ads for stores like Target, Wal-mart, Office Depot, and occasionally Walgreens (Sidebar: why don’t we have a Staples?!?). Each Sunday the new sales start, and these stores love to get you in the door with cheap school supplies. If you’re unsure of what is price is a great deal, you can search online for back to school stock up prices for lists. Many of those blogs will also have details in advance of when hot deals are coming. For one stop shoppers, your best bet is likely Wal-Mart when it comes to average over all prices. Every year they have Crayola Markers for $1 and 24 count Crayola crayons for $0.50. I was also able to find 2 packs of Elmers glue sticks there for $0.25 each (I needed 24 so it wasn’t ideal to buy 12 packs of two, but that’s too good of a deal to pass up)! I grabbed a handful of primary journals at Office Depot on sale for $1 each. And I hit up the ole Amazon Prime for Vis a Vis Markers. Now if only I could find a deal on those coveted Ticonderoga Pre-Sharpened pencils…
3. Don’t stop after school starts.
After the first couple of weeks of school are in the books, stores will be antsy to offload their remaining school supplies so they can start putting out Christmas decorations entirely too early (but I digress). This is a great time to stockpile the basics for next year or to buy a few extras for when the teacher inevitably asks for more crayons. Loose leaf paper for $0.10? Don’t mind if I do! You can also shop year round for often requested items like paper towels, tissues, and baby wipes. These are hot items for couponing and sales all year long.
4. It’s okay to splurge sometimes.
I love a good deal as much as anyone, but there are some items I don’t mind paying a little extra for. My daughter is incredibly picky about her shoes, so when she found a quality pair that she would actually wear for $30, I didn’t hesitate to buy them. I realize that is still a good deal for school shoes; I am just chronically cheap. And yes, they were on sale. But if you find an item that you or your child must have, and you have the means to make it happen, don’t feel guilty about going for it!
What are your favorite back to school tips and tricks?