How to find deals when back to school shopping

Before you start buying supplies you think your child may need, experts say hold on until the first week of school.
Updated: Jul. 27, 2022 at 5:40 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Inflation is affecting all of us, so a lot of families are cutting back on spending. But when it comes to school supplies, parents are willing to splurge to make sure their kids get a good start to the school year. But if you shop around, you don’t have to break the bank. Before you start buying supplies you think your child may need, experts, say hold on.

“I always like to say wait until your kid has been in school for the first week before you buy some of the items,” said Jamie Miles of passionatepennypincher.com. She says you’ll find a lot of generic shopping suggestions for different ages and grade levels. But, going by that generic list is a mistake.

“The generic list might say your kid needs three by five index cards, and your teacher wants four by six index cards,’ Miles said. “They want a certain kind of notebook or three subject or a composition, whereas the generic list might tell you to buy a different one.”

However, there are items you know your child will need -- basics like pencils, pens, and folders. “Walmart, Target, staples, they’re already on their A game,” Miles said. “Walgreens has some good deals. Each week, they kind of put out a few loss leaders. So it’s a really good time to go ahead and start stocking up on those loss leaders.”

In fact, you’ll find backpacks at Walgreen’s for just five dollars apiece. They may not be the highest quality, but especially for younger kids, they can do the job. And just because you find something online doesn’t mean it’s a great deal. Amazon has bundles of six folders for 10 dollars.

It may be convenient, but you’ll find similar folders at other stores for 20 cents apiece. And what about those big ticket items? Parents of high schoolers get sticker shock when they find a graphing calculator on the list. Those can be a hundred bucks in stores. Jamie says she has had to buy five of those over the years.

“One thing that I did was to go onto Facebook marketplace and put that I was searching for one,” she said. “And I even asked on Facebook, family and friends because once your kid gets out of high school, a lot of times they don’t ever use that again. You can get someone to give you one or sell you one for 20 bucks.”

And if you don’t want to shop around? Jamie says Walmart is consistently one of the least-expensive options for back-to-school items. If you want to make sure you’re getting the best price, passionatepennypincher.com has a tool to make that a lot easier. Each week they update the prices on their school supply “cheat sheet” so you know who has the best prices on whatever you’re looking for.