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Where to get School Supplies

Many of us are gearing up for the start of school in a few weeks.  A question came in from Jess about where families can get affordable school supplies:

I just registered my five year-old for kindergarten.  Wow!  Who knew the list of school supplies...for KINDERGARTEN would be so extensive?  It seems the school wants multiple packs of everything from sharpies to kleenex to dry erase markers to glue stix to additional money for a canvas bag students will be decorating (sans a backpack).
Now, I teach in a public school and am very PRO public school, but my wonder-hubby recently quit his job to attend nursing school full-time.  To say we do not have two pennies to rub together after mortgage is paid and food is purchased is not much of an understatement.  We want to provide the teacher with all of the (multiple packs) of items on the list.
Does anyone know the cheapest place for said school supplies?


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I don't know the cheapest place, but since you're a teacher, you can get discounts at quite a few places (ie Office Depot). Michael's has 15% off for teachers this week. It might be worth checking out what discounts various stores offer.

try Big Lots. Dirt Cheap!

i'd also check discountschoolsupply.com - that's my favorite site to order art/school supplies from for home use.

For some of the basic things on our son's long kindergarten list we just went to the Dollar Tree - we got pencils, boxes of kleenex, glue, folders, packs of glue sticks, packs of erasers, and blunt scissors there. We still haven't gotten some of the other supplies, like the 24 ct twistable crayola crayons and washable markers, etc.

And, we're still looking for a backpack that is the right size for a 5 year old that is plain and basic, NO power rangers, etc all over it, that is affordable (ie: cheap).

Watch the ads each Sunday (the office supply stores, Target, Rite Aid, Walgreens). Each week, each store will have a few items on special for DIRT CHEAP--things like a box of 24 #2 pencils for 10 cents, or spirals for 10/$1. I picked up 2 packs of Elmer's glue sticks at Target a few weeks back for 20 cents each. Shop a bit at a time, and keep the list with you in case you run across a deal. Good luck!

For backpacks, I recommend LL Bean or Land's End, both of which have unconditional guarantees (zipper breaks? they replace it for free ... or for any other reason, for as long as you own it). The prices are good, and since they'll last a very long time, you won't have to buy one every year!

Office Depot will have some specials you just have to watch for--you can get boxes of things for 25 to 50 cents. I'm a teacher as well so I wait and look for these deals, too. Target does this, also. At my school we attempt (!) to keep our supply lists low despite our budget constraints because you are right--it really adds up and sometimes teachers get a bit over eager with supplies and end up creating a giant wish list. It is especially hard on families with multiple kids. On another note, I do think it is unreasonable for a school to ask a kindergartener to bring in things like Sharpies--are they to be used by a 5 or 6 year old? They are very hard to get off of skin and clothing. And dry erase markers can have a very strong odor which often bothers my middle schoolers when I use them. Good luck!

I'll second the LL Bean backpack recommendation. I bought them for my older kids last year and they still look great, albeit a little dirty from being dragged around at camp all summer! They have cute colors and patterns, and you can get them personalized.

there is a place called the Dollar Scholar on SE Hawthorne (somewhere close to 34th Ave, i think). i believe it's a dollar store with an educational theme (i haven't been inside of it yet).

Being strapped for cash, I would advise that your either pick up some inexpensive loss leaders or wait to talk with the teacher. I would caution against buying some things at Dollar Store type places. Some of it is not very good (pencils that constantly break, glue that does not stick, etc.) and it is not always a lot less money. At those store they will often sell 3 glue sticks for a dollar (that don't stick well) while you can get 5 glue sticks for $1.50 elsewhere.

For pre-k and Kindergarten at my daughter's school we have a before school meeting with the teacher. In those grades so much of the supplies are used by the entire class. Sometimes they end up with more of some things then they need and not enough of others. This is in part because it is a list created by the school years ago and not the individual teacher.

Most teachers will be understanding to your financial situation and appreciate the conversation. They really do not want families to be uncomfortable because of money. If you could figure out what you can afford to spend (say $15 for example) I think it would be worth talking to the teacher about what they really need. You can also spread it out over time by offering to buy a few things later in the year. I know in my daughter's class come January the teacher was cutting babywipes into thirds. She was very grateful to have me show up with a box from Costco. She also need people to make playdough once a week. If you feel like you cannot buy a lot of supplies you might see if you can help out in ways such as making the playdough more often.

A friend teaches at a school with a high percentage of kids on free or reduced lunch. For his class he never has anyone bring in everything on the list. He feels fortunate if half bring about half the list. He then fills in out of his own pocket. I know he would be grateful to have someone say "I have this much to spend, what should I buy?"

For a backpack I would check out LL Bean also. Last year I ordered a smaller sized one for my smaller sized pre-K student and it was around the same price as ones at Target. The quality was a lot better. It is a cool butterfly pattern and we had her name put on it. It also does not look big enough to double as a sleeping bag on her back. She will definately use it again this year and maybe even into first grade. I remember getting all new stuff each year and I am trying to not repeat that with my kids.

this may not be the case in your school, but for others: you may want to just wait until after school starts. our school, Grout, is also in a low-income neighborhood (we have a large population of Somali Bantu refugees who live nearby). last year, a private organization donated backpacks packed with school supplies for every child in the whole school. the other items on the 'must have' list were hardly vital to the children's success.

and I wonder if you could make a backpack that would meet the criteria? I'm considering doing that for Everett, as it seems the backpacks we've collected from thrift stores and over-zealous daddy shopping trips (*sigh*) are far too big for a five-year-old's body. hopefully it won't wear out before he grows out of it!

You might want to consider hooking your teacher up with Schoolhouse Supplies: http://www.schoolhousesupplies.org. It's an awesome nonprofit that serves lower income schools (schools with a certain percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch) with school and classroom supplies.

They have a program where teachers can 'shop' for free on certain days and times. I'm not aware of a program for *parents* however it may not hurt to ask. I'm not sure how widely certain schools or educators know about them, but they are a great organization.

Btw, a lot of the stuff they have available is actually being re-used, often stuff donated by large businesses, although they have a fair amount of new products too (sometimes products that are slightly damaged that Freddies can no longer sell, for example). It's a great organization to support that really focuses on reuse and recycle principles.

Re: backpacks - we got both our kids secondhand backpacks at Next Adventure for about $10 each. There's a coupon in the Chinook book for the store, too. They were nice Jansport packs, only a few scuffmarks and still fully functional after two years.

I don't have a great suggestion really, just a comment about the school supply list. Our list is LONG. And specific regarding brand names. Our school states in many different places on material/websites that we should know that we can let the office know if the supply list presents hardship.

I think we will get most supplies from sale sections at Fred Meyer or Target.

We've received some information from Office Depot regarding their programs for educators and for customers to give back to schools:

"I noticed the post yesterday based on Jess' question of where to find affordable school supplies. One of the comments mentioned that Office Depot has a discount program for teachers. I'm currently helping Office Depot spread the word about the Star Teachers Rewards program for educators of Pre-K through Grade 12. Through this program educators get instant discounts of 5% on qualifying in-store purchases. Learn more and sign up to participate here:

For all those who are looking for a way to contribute to local schools, Office Depot offers a 5% Back to Schools Program to let you earn credits for free school supplies (purchased in store, online or via phone). The program let's you earn credits for the school of your choice. Public and private schools, Pre-K through Grade 12 are eligible.

All you need to do to contribute is give the Back to School Program ID # for your school at checkout- it is that easy. Ask a customer service representative at your local Office Depot for the ID # of your school. If your school doesn’t yet have an ID # you can sign your school up to participate. So spread the word to other parents and teachers."

Questions regarding these programs can be directed to Amie at akershbaum@360i.com.

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