School Supplies: When to Buy What

Back-to-school shopping is expensive. If you’re strategic about when and where you shop, though, you can save money on school supplies.

The following are tips on when to buy which supplies to get the lowest prices and biggest discounts.

First, some general hacks to keep in mind:

  • Take inventory at home first. Don’t go shopping for new supplies until you know what you still have from last year. Many families pile-up on supplies because they don’t know what they already have at home before shopping.
  • Don’t shop for everything all at one time or all in one place. Gone are the days of just going to Staples and filling your cart. You’ll get the best deals by shopping for certain items at certain places, at certain times.
  • Shop dollar stores and Michaels first. Dollar stores have a lot of the necessary basic school supplies available at the cheapest prices. Michaels has a fantastic selection of art products and they always have coupons that add a steep discount on your purchases.

With those tips in mind, here are more hacks on when you should go back-to-school shopping for what.

School Supplies

The most important items that your child needs to learn successfully can also be some of the lowest priced ones, but costs add up if you’re not careful.

  • Take care of the basics in August. Basic supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks, folders and more are actually well-priced during back-to-school sale season. The key here is to shop in the right places for the best prices. Check out dollar stores in your area. For markers, crayons and other art supplies go to Michaels and take advantage of their fabulous coupons.
  • Plan for the year. Most basic items like notebooks, folders, pens and pencils are much cheaper when bought in bulk. If you know you’re going to need them later in the year, buying those supplies in larger quantities will save you money in the long run. 
  • For bags and other bigger items, wait until class is in session. As soon as the first week of school starts prices drop on products like backpacks, lunch bags and other bigger ticket items. Try to hold out until then.

Clothing and Apparel

Your child has likely grown out of last year’s wardrobe, so they’ll need some spiffy new clothes to make a grand entrance on the first day.

  • Buy clothes in September. Your kids will push to have a new wardrobe to show off on the first day of school. However, prices for fall clothing lines are the priciest in August when they’re first released and there’s a big rush to get them. Prices drop once September arrives (and even more in October), so try to time the bulk of your clothing purchases for then.
  • Sneaker sales in summer. As opposed to clothing, the best prices on new sneakers can be found in August. This is in part due to retailers unloading their summer sneaker lines.
  • Shop Mondays at Target. Target marks down its children apparel every Monday. You’ll get the greatest selection and best prices if you shop on that day.
  • Hit Old Navy on Fridays. Old Navy marks down clothing on Thursday evenings, making Friday a great day to shop newly reduced items.

Related Story: Your Guide to Affordable Breakfast for the Family



Need a laptop, tablet, or a calculator? Shopping for these items strategically can save you some money.

  • Shop last year, now. A ton of tech companies release new products in June, meaning that last year’s models of laptops and phones will be on sale in August. Focus on that stuff.
  • Follow the holiday season wake. You may find some good tech deals during back to school sale season, but the prices on those items will inevitably drop further in late September and October when retailers prepare for holiday season inventory.
  • Wait for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s no secret that these two popular November sales events offer some great discounts. This is true for a lot of electronics. As it turns out, it’s a particularly good time to buy calculators, especially if your child is older and needs a more complicated calculator.

Extracurricular Supplies

Extracurricular activities can be the priciest part of the school year. Equipment, supplies and fees all add up fast. Here’s how you can save.

  • Art supplies are for August. Back-to-shool sales should get you the best pricing on art supplies, especially when you shop at Michaels.
  • Take advantage of newly arrived used gear. Depending on the sport you need equipment for, you may or may not find deals on those items during back-to-school season. What you can depend on, however, is that many families will be buying new gear for their child and look to give the used gear away to used sports stores. Check your local sports stores that sell pre-owned gear as well as garage sales.
  • Buy used instruments now or rent for the year. Whether you buy or rent a musical instrument depends on the type of instrument your child plays. If it’s a guitar, then you should definitely purchase the instrument, and you should purchase it used. If it’s a brass or wood instrument, then you’ll want to rent it for the school year to save money.

Tax-Free Opportunities

There are 17 states that plan to hold tax-free weekends this year (check the full list here). Here are the ones that have yet to happen:

  • Connecticut: August 18-24
  • Maryland: August 11-17
  • Massachusetts: August 10-11
  • Texas: August 9-11

If you live in those states, be sure to take advantage of the added savings. Additionally, the following states don’t collect sales tax:

  • Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon.

If you live near one of these states, it may pay to make your larger purchases in that state.

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