Save on School Supplies by Getting Organized

Shannon Antinori
Written by Shannon Antinori
Updated July 15, 2015
School supplies including glue, pencils, crayons and scissors
Organize your kids' closets and school supply stash before you head out to stock up for a new school year. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

A professional organizer explains how to make the most of back-to-school savings and avoid overbuying.

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

If you’re looking to save on school supplies and clothing for back-to-school season, now’s the time.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), families spent an average of $670 on school supplies, clothing, shoes and electronics for their school-age children in 2014. An NRF poll reveals that 29 percent of households with children ages 6 to 17 plan to spend even more this year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to save.

The end of July and beginning of August is prime time for back-to-school sales at many retailers.

And, if you’re lucky enough to live in a state with a sales tax holiday, you’ll want to take advantage of the added savings on school supplies and clothing.

Monica Friel, professional organizer and founder of Chaos to Order in Chicago, says most retailers typically offer seasonal deals on back-to-school items.

“This time of year is a great time to stock up on school supplies and office supplies,” she says. “They’re definitely at their lowest price now — you’ll never find it cheaper.”

If you wait too long, you can miss out. “By the second week of August, prices will start going back up,” Friel says.

But there are a few things you should do before you head to the store.

MORE: Angie's List Guide to Home Organization

Get organized

Before you go shopping, it’s important to know what you already have. If you don’t have a central spot for school supplies, create one.

“Have a place in the home for school supplies,” Friel says. That way, your kids always know where they can go for school supplies, and you can go through the existing supplies and take stock of what’s there.

“Start with a list of what you have," Friel says, and you can avoid overbuying. “This is one case where being organized does pay off," she adds.

RELATED: Back to School Home Organization Tips

Purge the closets

The same goes for clothing and shoes. Go through your children’s closets and drawers and see what still fits and what needs to be thrown out or given away.

Going through the closets will also allow you to see if there are any items that can be passed down to your younger children.

“We always say you want to purge and organize first,” Friel says. “That also gives you a mental inventory of what you have. If you don’t do that prior to going out and buying school clothes, you’re going to spend a whole lot more.”

MORE: How to Organize Your Closet

Don't shop empty-handed

When you do head out to the stores, make sure you have a school supplies list for each child.

Friel recommends taking a photo of supply lists with your smartphone so you have them on hand when you see a potential deal.

“When you’re at the grocery store and you see a great sale on erasers, you can make sure it’s on the list,” she says.

Shopping with a list helps you avoid overspending and overbuying.

Compare prices

Driving from store to store looking for the best deal on paper or pens is typically a waste of time and gasoline, but for some items, comparison shopping can pay off.

“Especially for higher-ticket items, do your research,” Friel says.

Electronics such as calculators and tablets can be pricy, so look online to see which store has the best deal.

Shop for the season

It’s fine to buy a couple of transitional items that can take your child through more than one season, but resist the temptation to buy clothes for fall and winter.

“When kids first start school, it’s really hot,” Friel says. “It’s a great time to purchase end-of-season stuff,” which is more likely to be on sale, she adds.

Fall and winter clothing will be pricier in July and August, so you’re better off waiting until the weather cools off, Friel says.

What are your best tips for cutting costs on school supplies? Share them in the comments!

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.