It’s August and back-to-school sales are in full swing. Style-conscious kids are naturally focused on getting the perfect clothes or techno gadget, while money-conscious parents are homing in on rock bottom prices for the more mundane school supplies that each child needs throughout the school year. Pens, pencils, erasers, crayons, glue, scissors, paper, backpacks…you name it, they will need plenty of it and now is the time to buy. Where are the best deals to be found? Oddly enough, at grocery and drug stores.
Each week, stores offer “loss leaders”, those super cheap, free or nearly free items that attract shoppers to the stores. Late July and early August typically feature good deals on pens, pencils, and other school supplies that are normally cheaper at big box stores like Costco, or office supply stores like Staples. Grocery and drug stores across the land offer nearly free school supplies in the hopes of enticing you to drop by and shop, anticipating that you will spend hundreds of dollars on other items as well. While this strategy may work on the unsuspecting shopper, it doesn’t have to work on you.
Consider an alternative method of shopping. In addition to your usual weekly shopping, set aside one trip specifically focused on school supplies. Plan ahead:
- Prepare a list of school supplies your kids will need in the coming school year
- List all stores in your area that currently have sales on school supplies
- Find the best deals on the supplies your kids will need
- Buy the amount you estimate your kids will need throughout the year, or a little bit more if you can afford it (contingency planning/stockpiling).
To illustrate the savings that are possible, let’s take the humble #2 pencil as an example:
- The normal price range for a 10 pack at an office supply store is $1.29 to $1.79, or between 13 cents and 18 cents per pencil.
- A typical price for #2 pencils at Costco is $8 for eight 12 packs of pencils, which works out to a price of about 8 cents per pencil.
- Rite Aid recently ran a sale: buy a pack of 10 #2 pencils at a price of 99 cents, and get three 10 count packs for free. That works out to 25 cents per pack or just under two and half cents per pencil. The savings at Rite Aid are in the range of 80% to 86% for an item that every school child uses in considerable quantities during a school year.
- Similarly, the grocery store chain ShopRite recently advertised a sale of 3 packages of #2 pencils for $1, and other stores offered equal or better deals, including getting the pencils for free through rebate programs.
Clearly, #2 pencils aren’t the whole story when it comes to saving on school supplies. The table below presents a typical list of supplies used by kids in grades ranging from 1 to 12, along with normal prices found at office supply stores. Compare the normal prices to the sales prices pulled from a variety of recent sales circulars from grocery and drug stores (middle column). and the percentage savings (final column) the current sale price offers. The sales prices are representative: they are not necessarily the best deals that can be found, but they do represent the kind of savings that can typically be achieved right now. Included in this mix of sales are straight discount pricing, discounts with additional “buy one, get X free” opportunities, and discount pricing combined with online or mail-in rebates.
|#2 Pencil, dozen|
|Handheld Pencil Sharpener|
|Electric Pencil Sharpener|
|Pink erasers, 3 pack|
|Pens, stick, dozen|
|Crayons, 24 pack|
|Colored Pencils, dozen|
|Watercolor paints, 16|
|Scissors, 5 inch|
|Acryrlic ruler,12 inch|
|Glue Stick, 5 pack|
|Elmer’s Glue, 4 oz|
|Single Subject Notebok|
|Ruled Binder Paper, 150 sheets|
|3-ring Binder,/Zipper Binder (Mead)|
|Book Cover/Book Sox|
|USB Flash Drive|
|CD, DVD Blank Media|
|TI Graphing Calculator|
A quick survey of the table shows that of the 36 listed items, it is possible to save at least 80% off the regular price for 23 items, and for only 4 items are the savings below 50%. Now add up the difference – if you are buying supplies for more than one child, the savings per year are in the hundreds of dollars if you spend wisely now. And with a little work shopping at multiple stores where the items are free in limited quantities, you can stock up for the year for almost nothing!
A final consideration: the problem usually isn’t finding the deals, so much as getting to the stores before someone else swoops in and clears the shelves of the sale items. The key is to move fast and know how much you need of each type of school item before you show up at the store. Some stores, like Walgreens, have newspaper insert coupons that must be presented at the time of purchase to get the best deal so be sure to bring them along. Also, remember that if an advertised deal is out of stock, you can generally pick up a rain check to “reserve” the sale price for later, and you can pick up multiple rain checks over several shopping trips. And don't forget that stores like WalMart will price match, so bring in competitors ads to minimize your shopping trips while grabbing up the best prices. If for some reason, your area is short on these types of deals, check online ads from Staples, Office Depot, or manufacturer offers such as Mead to find other deals that are suited to your kids needs. The deals are out there and now is the best time to take advantage of them to maximize your savings.