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Cheap School Supplies: Where Can You Get the Most Bang For Your Buck

Here we go again! It doesn’t seem like summer should fly by this fast, but it has. Which can only mean one thing–it’s back to school time! And with that comes the time to begin the hunt for cheap school supplies. There was a great thread on the ChooseFI Facebook group that had everyone’s best tips for saving money on school supplies.

Every kid who goes to school needs the right supplies. But not every parent wants to spend a fortune on those items. If that sounds like you, you might want to know some of the best places to find great school supplies that won’t break the bank.

From shopping at dollar stores to inventorying what you have on hand and taking advantage of tax-free shopping days, here are all the tips you need to get your kids ready for school at a great price.

Most Common School Supplies Needed

Before you can even begin the hunt for cheap school supplies, you need to have an idea of what your child’s school is requesting. Some schools provide a grade-by-grade breakdown for supplies but if your child’s school does not, here’s a list of the most common items:

  • #2 pencils
  • Pens–usually blue or black
  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Scissors
  • Glue/glue sticks
  • Erasers
  • Ruler
  • Zippered pencil pouch/pencil box
  • 3-ring binders
  • Highlighters
  • Notebooks
  • Spiral notebooks
  • Plastic folders
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Whiteboard erasers
  • Lined paper
  • Basic calculator
  • Post-It notes
  • Headphones/earbuds
  • Backpack
  • Lunchbox
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sanitizing wipes
  • Tissues

These are great items to keep in stock all year or keep an eye out whenever you are shopping. If you can find them on clearance, or on deep discount throughout the year, purchase them then to prepare for the next year.

But on top of these, there are some other items that are requested on a more grade-specific level, or based on school, that can still be fairly widespread. These include:

  • Composition notebooks
  • Scientific calculator
  • Posterboard
  • Protractor
  • Trifold display board
  • Index cards
  • Copy paper
  • Graph paper

These items are also good to watch for, depending upon the age of your children. For example, if you have a five-year-old, you probably won’t be needing a scientific calculator for a few years. So don’t worry about buying that one right now.

Now that we not what we have to buy, let’s take a look at where to buy them to get the most bang for your buck.

Related: Frugal Parenting: Keeping Costs Down When You Don’t Have Kids

Dollar Tree

This is one of my favorite places to hit first. Of course, as the name mentions, everything is only $1, which makes it awesome! However, some of their products aren’t built for long-term use, such as the crayons and markers. As one member from the ChooseFI Facebook group states, “Dollar store. Get a good backpack during the year on sale nearly anywhere.” And I agree with that statement. Dollar Tree isn’t necessarily the best place to get backpacks or any of the bigger, more heavily used items.

When I look for cheap school supplies at the Dollar Tree, I look for things such as:

  • Lined paper
  • Basic calculators
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks
  • Whiteboard erasers
  • Plastic folders
  • Erasers
  • Spiral notebooks
  • Composition notebooks
  • Post-it notes
  • Scientific calculators
  • Sanitizing wipes
  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer

Keep in mind, though, that sometimes the plastic folders and notebooks might be cheaper at some of the other stores during back-to-school sale time. But year-round, this is the best place to get all of these items, especially the calculators!

Five Below

Here is another great place to pick up some school supplies. While the selection at Five Below isn’t as vast as the selection at Dollar Tree, some of their items are “fancier.”

For example, their crayon selection. They carry the Crayola brand and they happen to only be $1 during the back-to-school season. This is the same price as the crayons at the Dollar Tree, but they are much better quality.

Some of the best deals found here are:

  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Backpacks
  • Lunchboxes
  • Glue sticks
  • Headphones/earbuds


Some of the drugstores, such as CVS and Walgreens, will have some great sales during the back-to-school season. The best way to get the biggest deal here is to use your store loyalty card. Sometimes the card will give you an additional discount, while other times you will get a coupon for money off your next purchase.

Make sure to keep an eye on the store’s website or the app for the best deals during back-to-school season and plan accordingly.

Some of the best items I have found to get at the drugstores are:

  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Notebooks
  • Glue/glue sticks
  • Highlighters (note: these are usually the larger, fatter ones and can end up being cheaper than the skinnier ones)

Cheap School Supplies Online

For those of us who prefer not to run around from store to store, online shopping is the way to go. Some of the aforementioned stores will even have similar deals online and ship your purchases directly to your house! Most of them have a small shipping cost, but sometimes that cost is waived if your purchase is over a certain amount.

Some of the best places to get cheap school supplies online are:

  • Amazon: Higher-end backpacks and lunchboxes can be great finds here
  • Character backpacks and lunchboxes, plus they have a $1 section with a lot of supplies
  • Craigslist: You never know what you are going to find here
  • Freecycle: This site is a place for people giving away things instead of selling them, but it can be hit or miss
  • Facebook Marketplace: Same as Craigslist, plus there are some special groups just for parents, as well as for giving away things before you toss them (this is one of my favorite groups!)
  • Oriental Trading Company: Not just for party supplies, they also have school supplies in bulk. Plus there is usually an Ebates rebate that you can use with this site.
  • Discount School Supply: Pretty much everything you can think of, plus they have free 3-day shipping

These are great sites to keep in your mind year-round because you never know what you are going to find when. Another commenter from the ChooseFI Facebook group states, “I always bought on sale/clearance and then had the stuff I needed without running out to buy that expensive whatever at the last minute. This isn’t just the basics, but stuff like science project boards and report covers and paper fasteners.”

And one of the best ways to cut costs is by keeping your back-to-school supply stocked throughout the year.

Get The Most Out Of School Supplies

As you can see, there are many different places to find great deals on cheap school supplies. This doesn’t just apply to the back-to-school season, but year-round.

For some of the best deals, don’t skip the Dollar Tree. But spring for the heavier duty and/or name-brand items at other stores, such as Five Below or the myriad of online stores. If you have a loyalty card for the major drugstore chains, then these can be great places to find rock-bottom deals on certain items during back-to-school season.

ChooseFI Facebook Group Wisdom

While these tips are helpful, members of the ChooseFI Facebook group shared even more hints and tricks that can help save you some serious money.

My favorite go-to tips was, “We reuse things. Even notebooks! Folders, glue, markers, etc. Inventory what comes home with them and check your supplies before buying all new the next round.”

My second favorite tip from the group was, “I always shop on tax-free weekends–automatically saves me 6.5%.” This is particularly helpful if your state does this. For years I waited until tax-free weekend to do some back-to-school shopping. But my state has decided not to participate in tax-free weekend 2019, and I am extremely disappointed.

And for one more great tip from the group, “Try to anticipate. Get the list for the grade ahead of your kid and buy that stuff after school starts for the next year. It’s always like 90% a week after Labor Day.” I love this one and use it quite frequently to fill in my stash so that the kids never run out of things they need during the year.

Overall, you don’t have to spend a fortune on back-to-school supplies to get your child stocked up and ready to go for the year. Using these tips, and a little bit of planning, you can potentially get away with spending very little on the things they need for school.

What have you found to be the best tips and tricks to get cheap school supplies for your child?

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Cheap School Supplies: Where Can You Get the Most Bang For Your Buck

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