Reduce the Demands
of Supply Shopping

by Gina Roberts-Grey

Following in the footsteps of countless parents before you, you’re probably preparing to brave the school supply aisles and hunt for fashion statements that won’t trash your bank statements. These handy tips can help you get set for the new school year and stay true to your budget.

Review your options. Before heading out, have your children try on their wardrobe staples. Determine what they like and dislike, what needs to be replaced and what is ready to be handed down. Donating gently used items can often give you a tax deduction. Make sure that you also take inventory of leftover craft supplies. Extra glue sticks, highlighters and markers sometimes have enough life left to complete several art projects.

Make a list. Have your child compile a list of “must haves” and “dream supplies.” Peruse websites, catalogs and magazines together to determine trends, your child’s preferences for school and what hit to expect your budget will take. Add your own list and you can determine which items must be purchased now, can be put off or would make excellent holiday gifts from family members. Determine the best prices to reduce numerous stores you must visit.

Agreeing on what supplies and articles of clothing your child may have before you go to the store can avoid a heated debate from occurring in the dressing room.

Buy in bulk. Most office supply stores offer discounts on supplies such as glue, loose leaf paper and pencils bought in quantity. Stocking up on supplies that your child will use throughout the year when they are on sale will save money and can reduce the need to restock as often.

Shop the spurts. Clothes are a different story. Don’t buy in bulk. There’s nothing more frustrating than tossing out clothes that still have their tags. “Although there is a temptation to buy (clothes) in bulk at the start of the school year, there is much more merit to buying in smaller batches every few months. This will save time and money in the long run because what you buy will actually fit!” says Katherine Chapman, CEO of OLLY Shoes Fit for a Kid, which has eight Delaware Valley locations. As most kids have growth spurts, staggering your purchases will periodically refresh their wardrobes.

School-packed supplies. Ask if your school offers a pre-paid school supply package. Many PTAs, PTOs and Parents Clubs sell school supply packs that include all the required school supplies for next year. If you can purchase a supply package, check that it is truly a bargain before investing, but remember to weigh the costs of going to the store and your time to track down required items.

“It was a bargain when you consider the time saved hunting down a specific color or size,” says Lauren Baldwin of Smyrna, DE, whose child’s school offered a supply package.
Surfing for supplies. Save time and gasoline by searching online for the latest trends in ergonomic backpacks, locker message centers and whatever items and gadgets. your child wants. Online, you can look over color and style options and analyze the prices and impact on your budget.

“I like to use comparison shopping engines to save time and money when shopping for back-to-school items,” says mom Molly Campbell of Philadelphia. Websites such as,, scan the offerings of thousands of merchants and list the best prices, along with additional information about products and merchants.

Outlets, off brands and sales. A day trip to an outlet can yield savings on pencils, new sneakers, backpacks, outerwear and other items.

Shop in spurts. The “shop ‘til you drop” theory often leads to impulse buying or purchases made out of exhaustion. If you only have a limited amount of time to shop, be sure to plan to eat and take occasional breaks to regroup, review your list and revisit your budget.
Quality counts. Make sure that your limited dollars are used to purchases reliable, cost-effective items. Check buttonholes, zippers, seams, and care directions of all clothing items before buying them.

Shopping for school supplies and clothes creates a wonderful opportunity for you to teach your kids about spending habits. Sit down with your children and agree on a budget.

Encourage older children to do some of the comparison shopping and point out that if they get the expensive sneakers, they’ll have to cut back in other areas.
Not only will your children learn about smart shopping, they will value what you buy.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer.