The back to school shopping season keeps starting earlier and earlier each year. Major chain stores in the US have been running their school supply specials for a few weeks, and even the Navy Exchange and AAFES are getting into the act. Why buy your school supplies so early? Because the discounts can be substantial. Really, really substantial. One cent pencil sharpeners? Six cent folders? Ten cent crayons? Makes me excited just to think about it.
Prep WorkBefore I get started, I get all the supply lists for all my kids, plus ask the what sort of items they think they will need. I combine my four lists into one master list of necessary supplies. Then it is time to start scouring the house. We have a central location for back-up school supplies, but things tend to stray. It is always amazing (and a little frustrating) when we gather all the errant pens, pencils, scissors and dividers from around the house. We have enough colored pencils to last until my youngest graduates from college! Once we know what we have, we remove those items from the buying list.
Comparing PricesThis part of the project can be as complicated or as simple as you would like it to be. I've been known to build a spreadsheet with the various prices at each store, to ensure that I'd get the best possible prices. However, it takes time to track the exact price of each and every item and then travel to multiple stores, and no single store has all the best prices on everything. No need to make yourself crazy. Even just a quick scan of the Sunday advertisements will help you know what stores have good prices each week.
Overseas, options are much more limited. While the Navy Exchange, Marine Corps Exchanges and AAFES stores do have school sales, their prices aren't anywhere near as amazing as the competitive shopping environment in the United States. If you have a lot to buy, you might find it worthwhile to order online or bribe a friend to ship you the things that you need.
How Much To Buy?Here is a tricky part - knowing how much to buy. I have always tried to buy more than enough supplies to get me through a year of school and at-home craft use. I can't stand to pay full price for things when I know how cheaply then can be had during the super summer sales season. There a few possible problems with this strategy. First, my kids' needs change each year. When they were in kindergarten, we went through glue like water. Now, we might use a bottle or two a year. However, we go through tons of looseleaf paper now.
I still have an entire drawer full of glue from a few years back. This brings me to my second problem - some things don't store well. Those old, old glue sticks may or may not be fine when they eventually get opened. I don't want to open them and find out, because the useful-life clock starts ticking even faster once the package is open.
The third problem is storage and moving. Having all these supplies isn't much help if you can't find them, or the movers refuse to move your stash. We have a single location for unused school supplies, and I bag everything questionable in zip-top bags before the packers come.