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5 Ways to be savvy about school supply shopping

School supplies - 5 ways to be savvy about school supply shoppingBack-to-school shopping has always been the most wonderful time of the year for me, while others believe shopping for school supplies marks the end of summer vacation. There is something about new clothes, new shoes, new markers and new notebooks that makes back-to-school all about fresh starts and new beginnings for me.

With these optimisms in mind, it is important to make your stationary purchases last through the year by making the right kind of purchases. As a perpetual student, experienced elementary teacher, thrifty mother and self-professed School Supply Expert Hoarder, I’ve developed a set of back-to-school shopping mantras to keep in mind as you set out on your supply scavenger hunts.

A list is a lifeline

Most schools will provide a sample list of what each student needs for the upcoming school year. In addition, you can find suggested supply checklists in many stores these days. No matter where your list comes from, DO NOT set out shopping for school supplies without a list. Children themselves will be the best experts in creating such checklists. They know what other kids in their class have, what colours of markers are popular, what things they are most likely to use, and what supplies their teacher next year will never allow (like pens!). Including them in the list-making process ensures they will be happy with the haul.

Take stock of existing essentials

If you take a good look around the house, you will most likely find a good supply of lined paper, pencil crayons, coloured pens and sharpeners on hand, tucked into drawers for homework, safe-keeping, or just because it was on sale last year. Now is the time to pull it out. I could make up a statistic about how much you could save by just taking stock of materials you already have, but it’s a concept that doesn’t need authority to prove its truth. New pens, markers, pencils, notebooks and other consumables will probably need re-purchasing, but things like pencil cases, sharpeners, binders and folders can probably be re-used. If you bought extra on sale last year, now is the time to pull them out and check them off this year’s list! Also, if you see especially good sales this year, you can stock up for next year too.

You get what you pay for

Have you ever wondered why some pencils seem to break every time you try to sharpen them? Often, it is the cheaper ones that do this because the wood has dried out and separated from the graphite stick inside, which breaks as soon as it is dropped once. I have learned my lesson the hard way about trying to cut costs by shopping at discount or dollar stores; I usually end up having to buy new supplies a week or two later. Instead, watch for sales at office supply stores where you can buy better products that will last longer since their stock is newer. Certain supplies will have the same longevity no matter where you purchase them, for example: paper, scissors, folders, binders, pencil cases. While other materials will most definitely achieve a longer life if you buy better brands (thus saving you multiple supply shopping trips!). These include most writing utensils like: pencils, pens and markers and pencil sharpeners. Shop smart and spend your money where it counts. No one wants to be buying a whole new set of writing utensils before Thanksgiving!

Set a spending cap

It’s impossible to say how much someone SHOULD spend on school supplies, because everyone’s needs are different. But, after taking stock of supplies you already have around the house, and making a list, you should be able to have a good idea of what the rest should cost. Involve the consumers (the students) in this process and give them a budget of what is reasonable to spend. Make it part of your existing reward system at home – that they can earn extra spending money for school supplies (to buy fancy, multi-colour pens) if they contribute to more chores around the house, or whatever seems reasonable in your routines. If a child can understand that the money is earned from somewhere and that there is a limited supply, they will be more likely to take better care of their supplies during the school year. You can also let them know that any supplies that need refreshing during the year will not be purchased, but will come from the existing stock at home. This will also entice them to save their money and make smarter purchases from the start.

Label everything

Parents, how many times have you heard your child come home from school and tell you that they are fresh out of pencils? Teachers, how many times have you swept a classroom floor and raked in more than a dozen pencils? A label can mean the difference between buying new pencils every week, and making the September Shop last all year long – IT IS possible! If you take the time to purchase labels, use a label maker, or even the ‘old fashioned’ way with a permanent marker, school supplies will find their way home. I am myself an avid labeller, and have often been the butt of lunchroom jokes among colleagues who think I’m crazy to label every pencil and pen on my desk. BUT, who’s laughing when I leave my pen by the photocopier and the next day, it’s still there?  I have seen first-hand that students who have all of their supplies labelled are more likely to find them on the floor before the daily sweep-up.

Most of all, don’t forget to make it fun! While you are keeping in mind all of the necessities you need to buy, and maintaining a budget, keeping an eye out for deals and writing your child’s name hundreds of times, remember that it all comes together. The ‘First Day of School!!’ (always capitalized with lots of exclamation marks in my calendar) is the first day of the rest of your child’s life:  a new school year is truly a new beginning.

Starting the year off right, with positive memories of the shopping scavenger hunts and the late night labelling marathons, then placing each item precisely into the perfect spot in a crisp new backpack could just end up being the most wonderful time of the year. Happy hunting!

Supply list recommendations

  • Pencils: Purchase at least 20, don’t buy from the dollar store, label every single one!
  • Pencil sharpener: If you buy right, you only need to buy 1 good one. I recommend Staedtler, or a similar durable one with a compartment for shavings and a good quality blade.
  • Erasers: Good erasers mean easier to read work – choose white vinyl erasers that you can label easily, they also last longer than pink or coloured erasers.
  • Pens: You only need a few blue or black pens with colours for accents, cheap pens run out of ink faster. Try a few out to see what feels right.
  • Crayons, pencil crayons, markers: Keep these well supplied for colouring projects, buy good brands – they will last longer and have brighter colours.
  • Glue: Cheap brands dry out very fast and don’t stick well; glue sticks are best, but liquid glue can have its purpose when used sparingly.
  • Pencil cases: Choose a sturdy one that can hold all of the necessities, or buy two: 1 for pencils and pens; 1 for pencil crayons and markers.
  • Paper: A students shouldn’t need more than a package of 200 sheets in one school year, look for it on sale but don’t over-buy!
  • Binders: Purchase sturdy binders, D-rings are easier and don’t curl the pages; buy hole-reinforcements for those pages that inevitably get torn out. Zippered binders with accordion folders built in can be great for kids who tend to misplace loose sheets of homework, but they take up a lot of space in a backpack.
  • Report folders (duotangs): Stock up when you see them on sale, buy multi-colours and styles so you have the perfect one for each project.
  • Extras: Mini-staplers, binder-sized 3-hole punches & fancy pens are gimmicks that are cute and fun, but not always necessities. Staplers become toys quickly and shouldn’t be sent to school, unless requested by the teacher. Fun supplies are always exciting to buy, but can quickly use up your budget.
  • Labels: A standard labeller or a permanent marker will do the trick!

With the right preparation and planning before you even leave the house this back-to-school season, you can be sure you and your kids will be well organized and ready to tackle the new school year!

5 Ways to be savvy about school supply shopping was originally posted by Our Kids is Canada’s trusted source for information on private schools and summer camps.

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