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How to Save on School Supplies

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By: burgundy bug

Shelf with Encyclopedia Britannica’s on it.

Source: Knowledge is Power | Penelope Peru Photography

Everyone wants to go back to school feeling cool with decorative notebooks, colorful pens, mechanical pencils, novelty erasers, and sturdy binders, but the price of school supplies themselves can leave you in a bind – especially if you’re a parent supplying two, three, four, or more children.

In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that families will be spending record-breaking amounts on “back to school” shopping this year, with the average household that has K-12 students spending $696.70. Households with college-aged students plan on spending $976.78, the highest amount ever recorded by the NRF.

However, you don’t have to drop hundreds – nearly a thousand – to send your kids back to school in style and equipped with the tools they need to succeed.

Crunching the Costs

$696.70 and $976.78 are both cumulative school supply totals, accounting for the cost of clothing and electronics, as well.

To break it down, the NRF’s survey shows that families with K-12 students plan on spending:

  • $239.82 on clothing and accessories
  • $135.96 on shoes
  • $203.44 on electronics (computers, calculators, phones, etc…)
  • $117.49 on general school supplies (pencils, notebooks, lunchboxes, etc…)

More than half of these families intend on doing their back to school shopping at department stores, while the remainder are opting for discount stores, online retailers, clothing stores, and office supply centers.

Those shopping for college students intend on spending:

  • $148.54 on clothing and accessories
  • $234.69 on electronics
  • $120.19 on dormitory and apartment furniture
  • $98.72 on food

College shoppers are relying on online retailers, department stores, discount shops, college bookstores, and office supply centers to gather what they need for the year, the NRF states in their report.

Saving on Supplies

The Dollar Store

A “dollar store” is arguably one of the most inexpensive places to do your back-to-school shopping. You could gather a notebook, a binder, a pack of pencils, a pack of pens, highlighters, a glue stick, and a ruler for $7.

However, you do get what you pay for. While notebooks, pencils, and erasers are pretty standard products, pens or highlighters may not glide as well, binders may fall apart, and so on.

Of course, you run this risk with any store you may shop from. If you have to replace supplies from the dollar store, at least it won’t be as much of a burden on your wallet.

Styles and selection may also be more limited at a discount retailer, which isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but many students do prefer having more colorful, niche, and unique looking supplies.

Five Below

As their name implies, Five Below is a retailer that specializes in selling products that are $5 or less. They often carry cute, trendy supplies and trinkets that you or your child would be proud to tout around school.

You could easily pick up various supplies, such as notebooks, pens, pencils, and so on, that’ll all fall within that $5 and below price range.

Other more specific supplies, such as algebra calculators, may not be available at these stores. While they do have alternatives, such as this miniature scientific calculator, you may have to search another store for a more specific model.


The global, online retail giant is a mystical place to purchase everything you could possibly need and more in one go – with the added bonus of free one to two day shipping for Amazon Prime Members.

(Pro tip: College students are eligible for a free six month trial of Amazon Prime. Once the trial ends, students then have the option to continue their Prime membership at a discounted rate of 50 percent off.)

With Amazon, you may have to purchase some supplies in bulk (i.e. four packs of binders, a box of 30 glue sticks, etc…) in order to get the most value for the lowest price. This is great for families with multiple school aged children, but these supplies could also be “back ups” or saved for next year for families who are shopping for one or two students.

Amazon Prime Members also enjoy the added benefit of discounted prices, which can alleviate the financial pressures of back to school shopping. However, having to buy school supplies in bulk – especially if you are only shopping for one student – can end up being a bit more costly in the here and now.

Shopping Local

It’s not uncommon for discount office supply centers to be tucked quietly into corner stores around your town or surrounding townships. With a keen eye and a quick Google search, you could probably find one within a few miles of your home.

One of my favorite discount stores is an office supply shop in a nearby town. They carry a variety of high quality, name brand products such as Mead, Moleskine, and Decomposition, for a fraction of their retail price. I was able to pick up enough school supplies for my loved ones and myself for $35.

Cutting Costs on Clothes

There are countless ways to cut costs on clothes in the digital age, from thrifty threads to hot sales and apps like Honey, which automatically pulls coupon codes from across the internet and calculates which active ones will give you the best price.

Get Thrifty

Music video for “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore


Thrifting is a great way to grab cute clothes for pennies on the dollar – and if you or your teenager is currently onboard with the vintage fashion trend that’s been dominating over the last few years, it’s your one-stop shop for authentic clothes from the 1980’s and 1990’s era.

There are actually more secondhand shoppers now than ever before, Thread Up reports. In 2019, secondhand apparel has evolved into a $28 billion market. 64 percent of women over the age of 18 have either bought used clothing or at the very least, are open to the idea of it. Millennials and Baby Boomers thrift more than anyone else, and Gen Z is having a hand in driving the market.

If you live in or around a city, there are all different types of thrift shops that all tend to have their own aesthetic: some shops may specialize in vintage clothing, while others may specialize in a more antique style. Of course, there are stores like Plato’s Closet, which focus on reselling clothes that are more recent and “on trend” with current retailers.

Goodwill is another place throughout the country that will have a wide variety of very affordable clothing.


Upcycling is a fun and creative way to repurpose old clothes by altering them or turning the piece into something entirely different. Upcycling could be as simple as taking an old t shirt and cutting off the sleeves or tie dying it. You could also let your imagination run wild and completely transform old or used clothes like Annika Victoria and Coolirpa do.

This is also a wonderful option to keep in mind while thrift shopping, as you could take your thrifty finds and turn them into something entirely new – and completely unique, too.

Honey App

The Honey App helps consumers save time and money while shopping at a wide variety of online retailers. With 10 million users worldwide and 30,000 retailers they search coupons for, Honey has helped shoppers save over one billion dollars so far, according to their website.

Users in the US also get to enjoy the Honey Gold feature, which gives a percentage back on sales from over 4,000 participating stores. Honey Gold can then be used to redeem gift cards; every 1,000 points is worth $10, the app states online.


Music video for “Sail” by AWOLNATION

Source: AWOLNATION – Sail (Official Music Video) | Red Bull Records

Many retailers throughout the US began launching their “back to school” sales as early as Jul – as seen in this email from H&M, received on Jul 26, 2019.

“Up to 50% off our back-to-school must-haves” from H&M Fashion News

Source: The Burgundy Zine

However, it’s not too late to enjoy back to school deals. Now that we’re approaching fall, many clothing stores are clearancing out their summer collections.

Although fall and winter will be upon us soon, summer clearance sales are great for picking up t-shirts and basics for throughout the school year.

Additionally, there are sales going on to celebrate the release of fall fashion around the country. As this article is being published, Forever 21 is currently running a 30 to 50 percent off sale on fall threads.

In Conclusion

Back to school shopping will inevitably dip into your pockets, but it doesn’t have to dip deep or leave your wallet screaming. There are alternative ways to save on school supplies, such as discount stores and purchasing in bulk from Amazon. With clothing, you can embrace your inner creative through thrifting and upcycling, or you can keep a keen eye for sales at your favorite retailers.

Good luck and enjoy the school year! We’d love to hear all about how you’ve saved money while school supply shopping. You can tell us about it on our contact page or submit an article to us about your experiences, which could be featured in an upcoming issue of The Burgundy Zine!

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com

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