While it seems like only yesterday that we saw Elijah off on his first day of kindergarten, unbelievably he’s heading into 3rd grade in a few weeks, and it’s our sweet Josiah who’s getting excited about starting school this year. Knowing how wonderful Elijah’s kindergarten experience was for all of us, we aren’t really worried for Josiah – we know he’s going to love it. But it does mean that we now have two kiddos to get outfitted and supplied for a new school year. Having to get twice the stuff means I’m looking for all the ways we can save money and time that I can, and I thought I’d share some of the best deals and tips from our back-to-school preparations so far. (By the way, this post contains affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through those links.)
(UPDATED July 26, 2019)
SHOP THE CLOSET
Before we even started shopping bargains and deals, the boys and I sorted through all their clothes. Yes – all the clothes currently in their dresser and closet. I had them try on anything they hadn’t worn in a while and weeded out clothes that didn’t fit or ones that they simply didn’t wear or like. (With all the clothing swapping we do among both sides of our family, not every kid likes the same stuff). It actually didn’t take all that long, even though the boys weren’t especially enthused about the process.
However, we discovered that Elijah has grown way too much this summer and basically needs an entire pants overhaul, while Josiah is pretty much set to start the year with what he has, minus some new tennis shoes and socks. And as I said, we share clothes with lots of cousins – a perk to having pretty much all boys and all living within 20 minutes of us – so we have a good supply of winter clothes in the next size up for Josiah and even some for Elijah.
Of course the other “closet” I shopped was my stash of school supplies that I already have at home. Not only do I keep whatever comes home unused or in decent shape at the end of the school year, but I also try to buy extra at the start of each school year when everything is at its cheapest. My stock pile already had a few bottles of glue and a good supply of pencils as well as Elijah’s pencil case, a couple pairs of scissors, and more. Unfortunately, keeping the boys out of the stash the rest of the year, especially over the summer, has been tricky…so we didn’t have as much to pull from as I’d hoped. But I guess they’ve been staying busy with crafting, drawing, and coloring while I’m cleaning or cooking, so I can’t complain too much. 🙂
RAKUTEN (Formerly Ebates)
You’ve heard me talk about this site before, but let me just say it again – We love Rakuten.com (formerly Ebates). It’s a site that gives you cash back just for buying what you were already planning to buy! Anytime you’re shopping online, start at Rakuten and search for the online store you want to buy from. You can also install the Rakuten toolbar app, which will blink green when Rakuten offers anything on the site you are shopping. Having it in my toolbar has helped me save money so many times when I would have forgotten to start at the actually Rakuten site. Either way, you’ll earn cash back on your purchases, and they often have coupon codes that can be applied to your order as well.
For Example: Josiah needed a bookbag, of course, and since we knew Elijah’s had only lasted him a little over a year, we wanted to find one that was going to be extra sturdy. From researching I found a few highly recommended companies (most sites said LL Bean, Pottery Barn Kids, & Lands’ End), and we started looking.
When I got to Lands’ End, I saw that they offered a “40% off one item” coupon when you signed up for their email, so I did. That would make one of the more highly reviewed backpacks the same price as the average bag on Amazon or the store. It was a good deal!
But, as we looked for Josiah, Elijah (watching over his little brother’s shoulder) found one that he really liked. Curious, I clicked on the Rakuten button on my tool bar (which was already working for us to give us 2% back), and I looked at the coupon codes listed. Tah-dah!!!! They had a “40% off YOUR ENTIRE ORDER” code, which allowed us to get 2 sturdy bags at a huge discount and gave us free shipping, plus our cash back. Win-win-win!
I can’t promise you’ll always find that great of a coupon code, as they change constantly, but knowing that Rakuten has usable codes at the ready without me having to search for them is a great timesaver.
(Oh, and Elijah’s bag from last year would have been fine to start the year with, but it was already showing enough wear that we know it wasn’t going to last the entire year. Here’s hoping these bags live up to their reputations!)
If you don’t use Rakuten already, you can sign up via this link! (Plus, you’ll get a $10 bonus once you’ve purchased over $25 online – easy to do when prepping for a new year!) Not only is this site great for online back-to-school shopping, but it’s amazing during the holidays!
Speaking of online, with a little comparison shopping, you can save money by buying certain supplies online. And if you’re using Amazon Prime, you can often get them with free 2-day shipping!
One of the supplies we got this year was a big pack of Expo Dry Erase Markers. If your kids’ school supply list is like ours, it can request anywhere from 4 to 6 or more dry erase markers, depending on the grade. This year we needed 10 total. So when I searched Amazon and found a 12-pack of Expo Dry Erase Markers for just over $7, I knew that was a great deal because Walmart had the same brand and size in an 8-pack for almost $15. (Not sure how long that deal will stay at that price, though, as Amazon’s prices can fluctuate).
By the way, if you have a student heading to college this year (or one heading back), they can get a 6-month FREE trial of Amazon Prime, which includes special deals for them plus the awesome 2-day free shipping. Plus, if they decide to join Prime, they get it at 50% off!
CHEAT SHEETS & DEAL SITES
One of the ways that I knew those dry erase markers were a deal was because I had a supply list cheat sheet!
Last year I discovered the Back-to-School Cheat Sheet that Laura from the Passionate Penny Pincher puts together, and it made our supply shopping a breeze. It compares the prices at 4-5 major stores for the most common school supplies, so you can tell when something is a decent deal or a great deal. I made sure to download it again this year, and in one trip, we quickly crossed off most of the boys’ lists at the lowest prices. You can get it here.
Crystal Paine, the MoneySavingMom, also keeps up with all the deals at back-to-school time, and she updates her site daily with the best deals that she’s found and how to save even more when you use coupons on top of the sales. You can find her running list of Back to School Deals here.
ALDI & DOLLAR STORES
When it comes to the paper products, plastic bags, disinfectant wipes, tissues, and such on your child’s school list, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on brand names. Aldi is where we stock up on those. I mean, we use them regularly in our house, so we know they are decent quality. They just don’t cost as much. 🙂
And sometimes you can score deals on random items at your local Dollar Store. They even take coupons!
Here in Ohio, the first weekend of August is a state-wide tax-free weekend on all things back-to-school, from supplies, clothes, shoes, and even diapers!
We’ve never had the chance to take advantage of the tax-free weekend yet as we’ve had family commitments or something else the last few years on that weekend. However, this Friday, we’re planning to do our shopping for the boys’ clothes and shoes because that’s going to be the higher priced shopping trip. Plus, buying the school supplies earlier meant the boys had more options to pick from, and we won’t have them out all day long on what is probably going to be a crowded shopping day. 🙂
Here’s more information on Ohio’s Sale Tax Holiday
About 14 other states also have special tax-free days near back-to-school time. You can search online or check this list for details on how and when you might be able to save a little more!
So, that’s how we’ve been saving as we get our two older boys ready to head off for another year of learning.
What are your best tips for back-to-school preparations? Have you found any great deals this year?
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