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Frugal Parenting Mission: School Supply Bargain Shopping

Living a Better Life® (from the editor's desk)
by Michelle Jones

There are lots of ways to save money on school supplies for your children each fall, but the most important factors for saving a bundle here are planning... and patience. Yes, that’s right, I said patience. And I don’t mean just a normal amount of patience, but the BARGAIN SHOPPING patience every frugal parent MUST maintain during back-to-school supply shopping. If you are not born with it, that is okay. You can learn!

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You’re going to need that patience when trying to squeeze your way through a very crowded store aisle filled with a dozen other parents hunting for school supplies and you're there just to pick up 10-20 packages of your children's favorite wide ruled and college ruled notebook filler paper (that’s on sale for 10 cents each). Then you’ll squeeze your way back out of the aisle and head for the cashier. That’s a bargain no frugal parent can pass up. And that paper will last the entire year, hopefully for even two or more so you will be able to skip the paper sale next year and only have to do this part of school supply shopping every few years.

BY THE WAY... it’s always okay to stock up on a good sale, but we should also be respectful that other people need the sale items too. At least that's how I try to shop. You can do whatever you want! ;o)  If you'd like to shop like me, just take what you think you’ll need and leave some for others. Unless of course there’s only 1 left, in that case, grab it as fast as you can and run!

Now, after conquering the notebook filler paper mission, you will get back into your car and drive to another store down the street which is on your way (never OUT of the way--for goodness sakes, PLAN your route!!!) for 6 packages of 24-count crayons that are priced at 19 cents each or less.  (Now repeat after me: "I will not, for any reason whatsoever, pick up the crayons that are on sale at the first store for 40 cents!"  Well, unless the other store is an hour away.  And in that case, maybe you can combine the trip with some other errands so it will still be cost effective. After all, IF there is no store set limit (and there often is on great bargain school supply sales like this) you could go ahead and pick up a two-year supply of the 19-cent crayons along with any other supplies you need from that particular store.

You see, most parents do exactly what the stores want us to do.  They go to either the store with the mega-paper sale, or the store with the mega-crayon sale, and then they purchase everything else that’s on their supply list from the same store!  Do NOT DO THIS!  I NEVER DO THIS!  And if you do, I want you to STOP!!!   Needless to say, that’s how they make LOTS of  money, and that’s how parents miss the remaining school supply bargains that can be purchased at other stores for great savings. And it is my job to help you SAVE MONEY!!! :o)

So that brings us back to where we started.  Patience.  I must have a lot of it.  Remember I have four children so I figure that's probably where it comes from, but I certainly wasn't born with it.  I've learned to be patient.  And I've learned to save money.  And you can too!  I'm always learning how to save more because there's always new things we're having to do like our oldest child is now getting ready for college, and boy is there a lot to learn with getting all those scholarships and loans set up, whew.  Eventually I will write about that too but not until I recover from the whole process we've been through this year.

What I am trying to say is, if you are new to school supply shopping for your children and are shocked at how expensive it is, relax, you will get better at it!

This is just normal routine for me every year... I shopped at 5 different stores and saved a fortune on school supplies, for all 4 of our children.  If I had the time to gather up my receipts and show you how much money I saved I would probably qualify for a Bargain Shopper Award!

So, for those of you who would like to try my School Supply Bargain Shopping plan - here’s how I did it without losing my sanity…

Items needed:

School supply list(s) - from the school(s)
Store sale advertisements - from the Sunday paper
A regular sized notebook or pad of paper (or a few sheets of paper will do)
Pen or pencil

Step 1 - Sit at a table with good lighting.  Gather all the school supply lists in front of you and put them in a single stack. (Now if you have only one child this will be a piece of cake and you can skip this step!)  Take the pad of paper and write at the top, School Supplies.  Now start with the first supply list and write the items down the middle of your new supply list.  Then put a line or a checkmark off to the side for each item needed, so that after you’ve gone through all the supply lists, you’ll know exactly how many you need to purchase.


( * * )  24-count crayons

( * * * )  Filler paper

( *  * )  2 pocket folders

( * )  1 subject notebooks

( *  * )  3 subject notebooks

Next, if you have more than one child, enter a notation on the right hand side if you’d like, using the child’s first initial, that will assist you in dividing up the school supplies easily once they are all purchased.  As follows…

( * * )  24-count crayons  ( R-1, D-1 )

( * * * )  Filler paper  (R-2, D-1 )

( *  * )  2 pocket folders  (R-1, D-1 )

( * )  1 subject notebooks  ( D-1 )

( *  * )  3 subject notebooks  ( R-2 )

This may seem a little complicated, but I’m telling you it worked like a charm. You can create whatever kind of list works for you, the main point is that you get all the school supplies listed on 1 sheet of paper, so you’re not fumbling through a handful of papers as you go to each store.  And that they be organized in a way that when you come home with all the supplies you’ll know who gets what.

Step 2 - Gather up all the store sales flyers and make a master Store Sales list of the items you’re interested in.  You can even include clothes and other items that might be on sale as well.  I can’t give you an example of my Store Sales list or we’d be here all day, the paper was filled from top to bottom.  You’ll want to block off sections of the paper so that you can easily see at a glance which store has which items on sale.  And then…

Step 3:  Go through your new master Sales List and highlight the best sales!  Don’t cross anything off though, some stores may run out of the lowest bargain priced items and you’ll have to opt for the second lowest price… and if you’re only going to save a few pennies from one store to the next, go for it.  By having a detailed master Sale List, you’ll be able to make a decision on the spot, and get the best or almost best deal for any school supply item in town!

Step 4: Take your two new lists with you to each store.  You’ll use the Sales List to know what to buy while you’re at each store, and you can refer to the School Supplies list to get the right quantity.  Keeping in mind that after Christmas the teachers will likely be sending notes home for more pencils, paper, glue and Kleenex.

Now that’s how to bargain shop for school supplies!

Additional Tips:

* Backpacks

Most importantly they need to last for more than one year, so don’t buy the cheapest thing out there. And keep in mind that as children get into the higher grades they will have more books and therefore need larger bookbags.  I'd say around 5th and 6th grade is when they need the larger bags. Most of the department stores sell bookbags, including office supply stores and sports stores.  Stay away from current themed backpacks, like fad movies and cartoons, they may hold up great but next year the child will want a new one.  Better to stick with basic colors that are always current.

* Clothes and Shoes

Never pay full price for clothing and shoes, never, never, never!  Shop the sales, and if items go on sale a week later, go back to the store and ask for a refund for the difference (it never hurts to ask).  And the best way to save on school clothes is of course to  graciously accept hand-me-downs if they're available… train your children from early on that there’s nothing wrong with wearing gently used clothing and it will save you another fortune.

Consignment stores can also an option but often you can find better quality clothes on clearance sale at the department stores for just a little bit more.  And if the clothes hold up longer (because they are better made or just newer), especially if you have your own children you’ll be handing them down to later on, go for the better quality.  You may spend an extra few dollars now, but you’ll save even more when the younger child can wear it again.

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