Back to School can be an expensive time to be a parent, especially if you have more than one child. But you can reduce the costs of what you spend on school supplies by being particular about what you will and won’t buy your child every new school year--start with this list of 8 common back to school items that don’t have to be purchased each year.
8 Back To School Items You Need To Stop Buying Every Year
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The trick to not repurchasing these eight to school items on this list year in and year out is to buy high-quality, non-character covered items the first year you buy them. What I mean by “non-character” is don’t buy the backpack with the character from the latest movie or TV show, instead stick to colors that you kids love and keep the character items to things they will outgrow as fast as the fad like socks, t-shirts, etc.
Yes, high-quality school items do cost more, but there are ways to bring the price down (which I will discuss at the end of this article) and over time you will save money purchasing one high-quality item on sale over buying a new low-quality item each school year.
Plus there is the environmental impact of low-quality school items ending up in the trash each year. Take a second to think about how many children are in your child’s school, in their school district, in your state, in the USA. If each child got new low-quality items each year and tossed them at the end of the year, how much trash is that creating? Now times that by the 13 years each child is in the public or private school system. That is a massive heap of trash we could reduce with a few wise purchases.
Please for the love of the environment stop buying low-quality backpacks that rip before the school year is even half over. Use the tips at the end of this post to help you purchase a longer-lasting backpack for just a few dollars more and do one of either scenario below with your child/children.
My son had his bought on clearance Swiss brand backpack (similar to this one) all through his 4 years of high school and the only reason we threw it away when he graduated was because he put his soccer cleats in it after his final game and left them zipped up in the bag for months before I found it in the back of his closet–no amount of washing could get rid of the stench, so we purchased him a new one for college.
My daughter who is now in grade 12 prefers to switch things up a bit more often and I have let her, on one condition: she has to find a lightly used, good quality backpack at either a yard sale or a thrift store–no new one every year. This has not caused her any problems as like-new backpacks are plentiful at yard sales and thrift stores. This year she found a like-new Adidas backpack for $3 (similar to this one) At the end of the school year she puts her backpack in the box we continually have out for thrift store bound items and spends the yard sale season looking for a new to her one to replace it with.
Way back in the ’80s, my mom sent me to kindergarten with a red Tupperware lunchbox set. Thirteen years later when I graduated, I still had it. Except for the handle it was still all in one piece, but it still worked without it.
My kids are using lunchboxes that are currently eight years old and still going strong. Your child does not need a new lunch box every year. The trick is to pick one not plastered in licensed characters. Pick out a simple plain colored one, and let him or her decorate it with stickers if they want to put their current favorite characters on it each year. You should also opt for one that is made of sturdy material, stay away from thin plastic.
3. Disposable Lunch Supplies
My Tupperware lunch box came with a sandwich box, a drink cup, and a smaller container for snacks. As the years went by the drink cup was replaced with a glass bottle that was bought with apple juice in it and then used over and over (surprisingly it never broke). Rarely was there a plastic-wrapped anything in my lunch.
But that was the ’80s, before individually wrapped in plastic lunch and snack food became the norm. Our new normal is not good for the earth, nor our pocketbooks. Fight for the health of both the planet and your finances by purchasing reusable water bottles and snack containers for your child’s lunches for all their school years.
Yes, your child might lose an item or two over the years or they might forget it in the back of their locker until the contents are rotting so bad you can’t bear the thought of opening the container, let alone cleaning it. But trust me, it will still be cheaper to purchase mid-range priced reusable containers and fill them with carrot sticks cut by you instead of baby carrots and cheese cut by your child instead of cheese sticks–even if they get lost or tossed now and then.
I think older children especially should be taught how to be a wise steward of their items and sometimes that means making them pay for replacements if they keep losing things over and over. Show grace by meeting them halfway in the purchase cost, but let the sting of paying half help them remember to take better care of items trusted to their care.
4. Pencil Case
Step away from that dollar store bin of pencil cases. You will regret it when two weeks into the school year the zipper busts, or the plastic hinge breaks. Instead, purchase a durable and washable pencil case that should last more than one school year.
This is the only type of binder I buy now–they have lasted my high school kids for several years. I purchased my first one at a yard sale in like-new condition for just 50 cents and was so impressed with how new it looked after being used for an entire year by my daughter that I stopped buying any other brand or style.
My favorite brand for binders also makes durable two-pocket folders with Prong fasteners and two pocket folders that fit into binders. These folders should last your child several years, stretching your dollars and helping reduce school year waste.
7. A New Wardrobe
I am not denying a child the first day of school outfit here, I am just recommending you stop at one outfit, and you choose that outfit wisely. Before you go out to purchase that back to school outfit, go through your child’s entire wardrobe with them.
Pull all the clothes out of their room and lay them on your bed, Marie Kondo style. Spend the next hour or however long it takes going through their clothes. Get rid of the ones that are worn out, too small, in bad repair, or they don’t wear (here is a list of questions to ask while decluttering clothing so that you are left with just the ones your child loves).
After you are done decluttering their wardrobe take note of what clothing you have left and what new items they need for school. Go ahead and purchase a new outfit based on the need list. If you want to help out your wallet and the environment check out secondhand sources, such as local thrift stores or ThredUp (an online consignment store with a large selection of children’s clothing–when you click my referral code in blue you start your Thredup account with a $10 credit).
8. Cute Stationery Items
Don’t fall prey to those rainbow-colored pencils. I have several teacher friends and they all agree that decorative pencils do not hold up well, needing more frequent sharpening than their plain old yellow #2 HB competition. This is the brand of #2 HB pencils are the ones my friends in the educational field rave about; they swear they last longer than any other brand. Of course, if you have a child who seems to lose his or her pencil every day, then I would buy the lower-priced but still good quality competition and save the Ticonderoga brand for your homework station at home. That is what I did with my child who never could seem to keep a pencil one whole school day and it seemed to work well.
Another decorative item to avoid is decoratively shaped erasers–they don’t work well, and they often fall apart within a few uses. Instead, stick to the same type you probably had as a child, some things just can’t be improved on. Another great kind of eraser are these ones by Pentel.
How To Save Money On School Supplies That Will Last
As I promised at the start of this article, I am not going to leave you high and dry having to pay the full price of high-quality items that often cost considerably more than their lower quality competitors. With these tips below, the price gap between the price of a longer-lasting school item and the toss before the end of the school year item will be much smaller–if not closed altogether.
The secret to incredible thrifty deals on high-quality items is to stack the savings!
1. Generally (though not always) shopping at yard sales it the least expensive way to find like-new (or even new with tag) durable items that your child needs for school. I have discovered backpacks, clothing, binders, folders, and more at yard sales for as little as ten percent of their retail value.
2. Thrift stores are another excellent place for gently used backpacks, lunch kits, and clothing. However, watch the prices; lately, I have found some thrift stores asking ridiculously high prices for brand name items. If you are not sure that the price is a great deal, do a web search with your smartphone before you buy the item.
3. For larger items like clothing, sign up for your favorite store’s emails and any saving apps, or other money-saving programs they might have (but avoid the store credit cards–those have nasty interest rates).
4. Download the Honey Browser tool to whatever browser you use for your online shopping. It will make finding promo codes a breeze. It has saved me $10 off numerous Thredup orders, and just last week saved my college-aged son over $50 on his purchase of a new smartphone (here is an article I wrote explaining the benefits of using Honey in more detail).
5. Download the Rakuten browser tool and use it to earn cash back on your items. It isn’t instant savings like Honey promo codes, but it doesn’t take long to reach the $5 minimum cash out. On that same smartphone order, Rakuten saved me $15! I discovered you can stack the two. Use Honey first and then activate Rakuten. Sometimes it works, other times it does not, but it is worth trying.
6. Follow the Money Saving Mom blog for the best back to school sales on all types of brands.
7. Download these apps to save money on in-store purchase–and some online purchases as well.
8. Now that you have your browser tools ready, your apps loaded, and are watching your email box and Money Saving Mom for sales, you are prepared to stack the savings. A sale plus a promo code plus a cash back can turn a good deal into a great one! And it turns you from a bargain shopper to thrifty ninja!
These tips should keep you from cluttering up your wallet with unnecessary bills and the landfill with subpar school supplies–making you a financially smart green parent!
For a list of 52 different websites, apps, and stores our thrifty family uses to help us keep our expenses low, click here to visit our Thrifty Tools Resource Page.
3 More Posts To Help You Decrease The Cost Of Your Back To School Shopping
- 10 Ways Thrifty People Save Money On Back To School Shopping
- How To Use Swagbucks To Pay For School Supplies
- 5 Ways To Spend Less On Your Back To School Clothing Using Your Smartphone
Do you want to save or earn money? Join my Thrifty People Of Snail Pace Transformations Facebook page where I share tips for doing both.