Buying back to school supplies can be a traumatic experience. You think you are going to swing by the store, pick up a few packs of pens and “voila” you’re done.


Once the kids get wind of the fact you’re going BTS shopping you might as well resign yourself to spending an entire day traipsing around a dozen stores trying to find a unicorn pencil case with glitter that matches the backpack you saw in store three.

Add to that your tweens disproportionate anguish when you suggest plain colored binders would be fine, or your sudden urge to choke all of your ungrateful children with the straps of their preferred backpacks and BTS shopping can be incredibly stressful.

I can’t wave a magic wand and make children bearable, but I can share some tips to help you endure the trauma of back to school shopping. 

Make An Accurate School Supply List

Establishing precisely what you need should always be your starting point. It’s easy to go out and buy a bit of everything only to find you have it hanging around the house for months on end because nobody needs it. So remember – find out what your little ones need before you start making shopping lists.

See What You Already Have At Home

Now you have your list of requirements see what you can cross off that list without even leaving the house. The more years your children have been at school, the more likely it is you still have two packs of paper hiding in the cupboard or a multi-pack of folders that you bought last year and were never used.

Get the kids in on the action & have everyone pile up everything they have. We have often had three geometry sets, each with a broken or missing piece that has been cannibalized to make two good sets.

Get creative and make it fun for the kiddos by challenging them to find the most exciting items they can.

Host A “Swap Shop” With Friends And Neighbours

Share these tips with the other moms you know then arrange for you all to meet up, either at someone’s house, or the park, and bring along your lists and supplies. You can swap those boxes of colouring pencils that you don’t need this year, for another mom’s spare notebook.

It is also an excellent opportunity for you all to exchange character items such as pencil cases, lunch boxes or bags, that your child is no longer into, but another child might love.

Set A Budget And Stick To It

It’s easy to get carried away when things are ‘only’ $4 or $5 each – but that adds up very quickly. An effortless way to run the cost up is with character items.

I speak from experience when I say that the ‘Hello Kitty’ (or whichever character your kids are in love with at the moment) bag that they really really love & have to have may well be out of favour by the time spring comes around. Consider plain bags, folders, pencil cases, etc. and accessorize them with small stickers that can be swapped out when tastes change.

Shop Around

It can be a pain – especially if you’re limited in time – but try to shop around. A favorite retailers trick is to get you in the door with a fantastic deal on one item and add a few cents here and there on other things.

You automatically assume that because those packs of pens are so cheap, everything else must be too and end up no better off. If you can stand the extra time and effort (assuming you’re not driving 30 miles to save $3 of course!), it’s well worth shopping around.

Check For Price Matches

You have to be prepared to be successful with this one. Go through the flyers and check out the lowest prices. Then choose one store to visit. Large stores such as Walmart & Staples have price matching policies, and you can often save a great deal this way.

Don’t be afraid to ask! This one is great for food items as well – especially if you’re stocking up for lunches.

Don’t Forget Consignment, Thrift And Dollar Stores

Things like tissues or crayons & pencils can be a great deal at the dollar store. Clothes, bags, pencil cases and some sports equipment can be found in good condition and at a very reasonable price in the consignment & thrift stores. They usually have new items on a regular basis, and you can find some unexpected gems.

Shop Online

Another good way to save is to shop online. A significant advantage is that you can buy in your PJ’s when the kids have gone to bed but be careful. Check for hidden shipping costs, these can add up very quickly, and before you know it the items were cheap, but the shipping burst your budget.

Stock Up On Sale Items

If you see pens for $1 a pack, grab a couple of extras – or if you’re in a position to, buy loads. Items that you know will need replacing through the year, like pens, pencils, erasers, etc. are worth stocking up on whenever you see them on sale.

I don’t know about you, but our boys go through so many pens I suspect that they are actually supplying the entire school through some underground stationary black market

Reusable Items Save A Fortune

If you can buy a lunch box/lunch bag and a Ziploc type box for sandwiches etc. , you will save a fortune in brown bags and baggies. The same goes for buying a refillable water/juice bottle and ditching those cartons every day.

Buy Early And Wait Until The Last Minute

I know it’s contradictory, but prices always seem to be lowest at the beginning of the back to school season and then again at the end. We buy the items we must have at the start of the year and hold off buying lots of the generic things until the end of the season when the stores mark everything down.  If I can buy one pack of paper for the first week of school and then scoop up the other nine at the end of season sale – I will!