I originally published this post August of 2021 during my crash course introduction into ‘back to school shopping’. This year I find myself considerably better prepared, but hopefully my insight will help out this year’s ‘first timers’. At the very least, you will discover that you are not the only one experiencing that ‘drowning panic’ sensation in the school supply isle of Target. Enjoy!
Wow! Can’t believe it, we are already on our third day back at school here in my neck of the woods. Figured it was time to move on from my ‘summer entertainment’ series and tackle the subject of the back to school shopping list instead. This year is my first foray into the back-to-school supply list, and I must say I was a bit mind boggled by the sheer complexity and specificity of a materials list intended for kindergarteners! I will admit I had to look up what the heck a Ticonderoga pencil was- yeah, it’s just a plain old fashioned yellow number two pencil. I guess Ticonderoga is a brand like Kleenex is to facial tissue.
Anyway, my store of choice for the bulk of our items wound up being our local Walmart. I’m sure I could have scored some better deals had I taken the time to go from store to store looking for what retailers’ call ‘loss leaders’. These are items that they sell for really cheap- even at a bit of a loss, to get people into the store. Once there, they are hoping that they will fall victim to the ease of the ‘one stop shop’ and purchase everything in one trip like I did. To make up for the loss in profits of the loss leader item rest assured, you will pay more for some other item- but this is the price we pay for convenience.
The smart thing to do if you are not in a bind for time is to collect up all the sale papers (or compare prices using your web browser…yes, I am old and I remember sale papers and clipping paper coupons LOL) and compare prices against the items listed by your child’s teacher. Then make up a list of which stores you want to hit and what specific items are cheapest at each store. Then make sure you ONLY purchase those items from that store- NO BROUSING or you will foil your bargain hunting. With this strategy you can take advantage of the rock bottom prices on all the loss leaders from each store without paying for the more expensive ‘loss recoup’ items.
One advantage that Walmart had over, say the Dollar Tree was that we were able to find everything from the ‘pink pearl’ erasers to the impossible to find- 1.5” x2” post it note (they were way in the back with the regular stationery and office goods). Whereas the Dollar tree carries school supplies, but they are very generic. Say, maybe they have red, blue and green folders but they are only paper folders versus the plastic folders with pocket and prongs that your kid’s teacher had specified. Walmart was also smart enough to pull generic equivalents for each of the brand name items and had them conveniently located right next to the more expensive items. So, if the ‘high-roller’ Ticonderoga pencils aren’t in your budget, you can easily locate the more affordable equivalent.
For the lunch box, backpack, and headphones to plug into the standard issue iPad (when did kindergarteners start using iPads?!) we used Five Below. As the name implies, all items in Five Below are five dollars or less. All three items were five dollars versus fourteen for a backpack, ten for a lunch box, and fifteen for the headphones at Walmart. For school age children that are probably going to destroy the item by the end of the year anyway, the quality of the Five Below items was fairly comparable to that of the Walmart items. Obviously, if you are looking for a lunch box for an adult that you would like to last for several years I would ‘splurge’ on the more expensive items.
Other great discount stores that carry school supplies to check out are: The Dollar Tree and the Dollar General (The Dollar Tree has bizarrely good quality socks- go figure). Occasionally you can find overstock school supplies that have been donated to the resale shop. I did score a couple of brand-new lunch boxes with the tags on them there and you can find gently used pencil boxes, binders, zippered pencil cases, headphones, backpacks, clothes, and gym shoes there too. I would avoid Target, Walgreens, and Meijer unless you are specifically there for their loss leader items as they tend to have higher prices in general.
So, as always, with this in mind- happy bargain hunting!