Tips for shopping for school supplies - The Buffalo News
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Tips for shopping for school supplies

This is not a drill. Summer vacation is ending, and your kids are going to be expected back at school stocked with supplies in just a few days.

Here are some tips to get what you need without going broke.

Don’t buy what you already have. Odds are you already have lots of the items on your supplies list. Check the junk drawer for pens, pencils, crayons and glue. Refill a small container of hand sanitizer from the big jug you probably have in the linen closet. Reuse binders, rulers, scissors and backpacks from last year.

Cherry-pick loss leaders. Stores offer certain items for pennies to lure you into the store. Get your Sunday circulars together and shop several stores to take advantage of them.

Team up. If a warehouse club offers better prices on an item in large quantities, chip in with other moms to buy it in bulk, then split the items up.

Calculate. Graphing calculators can cost a fortune. First, see if an older student or recent grad has one they’re no longer using. If you have to buy your own, shop used on eBay, Amazon or Craigslist.

Stick to the list. Buy only what you need, and be sure to heed the teacher’s specifications.

Comparison shop and search for coupon codes. Make regular use of sites such as,,, and

Leave the kids at home. Studies show you’ll spend less if you shop alone. You’ll be able to focus and strategize, and you’ll be less likely to make impulse purchases. If you do bring the kids, use it as an opportunity to get them excited about the new school year and to kick off their education with a lesson in smart spending.

Shop with discounted gift cards. To get more bang for your buck, buy discounted gift cards from sites such as, where people sell unwanted or unused gift cards for a portion of the face value price.

Discounts are smaller for popular cards (you might pay $47.12 for a $50 Walmart gift card) but you can score good deals on less-sought-after cards (such as a $43.26 gift card to Sports Authority for $33.10).

Wait until after the first day to buy clothes and shoes. I showed up for the first day of middle school in British Knights high tops only to find all the other girls wearing plaid Tretorns. Since sneakers can’t be returned once they’re worn and my parents (rightly) weren’t about to shell out more money for a second pair of the “right” sneakers, I buried them in the bottom of my closet and wore my Picway flats every day instead.

If your kids are at that trend-sensitive age, let them see what everyone else is wearing before they make their wardrobe picks. It’s better than buying them a bunch of clothes they’ll never wear, or fighting with them each morning to get dressed in something they hate.

Think outside the mall. Hit garage sales, consignment shops and thrift stores or organize a clothing swap for back-to-school clothes.

Don’t unwrap the goodies. Keep clothes and supplies in original packaging and hang onto receipts until students are sure they’ve bought the right things. Otherwise, you won’t be able to return them.

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