Back-to-school math: Parents share money-saving tips on school-supply shopping

From reusing last year's pens and binders to shopping in bulk, parents share their top five tips for saving money on back-to-school supplies.

CBC Manitoba asked parents on Facebook for their thrifty thoughts as kids get ready for school

The countdown is on to get back-to-school shopping done. Students in the Winnipeg School Division are back in class Sept. 6, 2017. (Shutterstock/Studio M)

With school starting in less than two weeks, stores across Manitoba are trying to lure parents inside to blow their back-to-school budgets.

After buying food for lunches, new clothes, shoes and, of course, a pile of pens, binders, glue and other supplies, September costs add up quickly.

CBC Manitoba asked parents on Facebook for their tips on saving money at this time of year.

1. Reuse. Reuse. Reuse.

Several parents pointed out that a lot of supplies can be reused several years in a row — including binders and crayons and, of course, backpacks and pencil cases.

Erica Gradwell suggests buying things like pencils in bulk and doling out supplies over multiple years. Mom Carrie Muth said she personally keeps everything that won't dry out.

"I bought good quality plastic Duo-Tangs when my oldest was in Grade 3 that she still uses for Grade 12," she wrote.

2. Consider online shopping.

Outdoor billboards, flyers and television ads might draw parents into stores, but great deals can be found online too.

When Stacie Simonson isn't searching thrift stores for sturdy binders, she said she's had good luck on sites like Wish and AliExpress. But, she warns, you have to plan ahead if you order online.

"It takes several weeks for the packages to arrive … so only go this route if you are able to wait," Simonson wrote.

3. Dollar stores offer bargains — but proceed with caution.

Many people suggested shopping at dollar stores as a great way to avoid tapping your bank account. Dollar stores offer a range of classroom staples — but a word of caution.

Many parents said the low quality of some dollar-store goods meant they had to replace supplies way too soon. 

Faith Loewen encouraged parents to buy quality to save money over the long run.

"I bought my boys Ticonderoga pencils in elementary school and they used just a few a year. The cheap pencils might last a week at most.… Better-quality binders lasted the full five years they were needed," wrote Loewen. 

4. Get together for group buys.

A great way to stock up inexpensively is to get together as a group and purchase a whole whack of supplies in bulk to divvy up among children.

Brittany Bower, mom to a five-year-old son, said her son's preschool teacher was able to buy a year's worth of supplies for all the kids in the class for only $30 from each child's parents.

Misty Klassen said the practice can also be a great equalizer between students of different backgrounds.

"I think it's brilliant. Every student has the same supplies so there's no comparison (I was always so jealous of the kids that had Mr. Sketch markers!) and at the end of the year, he comes home with a box of stuff. We pay around $45," Klassen wrote.

5. Look for loss-leaders.

Kathryn Giesbrecht suggests going to big-box stores (think Staples and Walmart) and looking for loss-leaders. These are items that are marked down below the store's cost to draw shoppers into the store.

Giesbrecht said if you just stick to buying the heavily discounted items (and avoid purchasing anything else) you can leave with some great deals.

Tammi Fidler said Superstore had a 10-pack of pencils on sale recently for less than 50 cents and last year, she found packs of 24 crayons on sale at Walmart for peanuts. "I'm good for a few years!" she wrote.

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