1. Shop early for school supplies…but not too early.
If you have your child's list of school supplies over the summer, begin shopping as soon as you see school supplies go on sale (usually right after July 4th). If you wait too long, the best bargains sell out. Though at first, I only buy sale items, unless an particular supply seems like it might be hard to find later.
2. Shop around for school uniforms.
3. Anticipate school supply needs, when necessary.
4. Buy in bulk for the whole year.
5. Read your child's school supplies list carefully (and save your receipts).
So if you don't want to spend money on the wrong item, take the school supply list very literally. And if you must get something that's not exactly what was requested, save your receipts.
6. Reuse last year's school supplies when possible.
Many parents buy new water bottles, book bags or lunchboxes every year. But if you prefer to make these things last from year to year, buy high quality and nothing too trendy. My 3rd grader is still happily using a floral backpack from pre-K. After a spin in the washer, most book bags and lunchboxes come out ready for more use.
Other supplies, like rulers, USB drives and protractors, also can be reused. The trick is to collect them at the end of the school year, so they aren't lost. As the kids empty their backpacks at the school year's end, salvage any reusable school supplies. You may not want to send them back to school with a half-used notebook or chewed-on pencils. But the leftovers of these school supplies that you buy every year come in handy later when you need replacements on short notice.
7. Give kids a budget.
Kids can be resistant to reusing last year's backpack or lunchbox or wearing older clothes. Maybe they are hankering for a fancy new binder that everyone has this year. If this attitude is hampering your efforts to save money on school supplies, give kids a budget. Tell them that you will spend a certain amount on an item, if they want an upgrade they'll need to chip in (either with money they've saved or by doing extra chores.) Or perhaps let kids choose which items to reuse and which to buy new.
8. Buy second hand.
If your child doesn't wear a uniform (and you don’t want to do laundry every few days), then a good supply of back-to school clothes are necessary. But clothing doesn't have to be new to be cute. Check out consignment shops and thrift stores for kids clothes. Kids can grow so fast that used children's clothing often has barely been worn. If you're shopping for common items like uniform blouses, shop early in the summer.
Also the classic novels that are often assigned to middle school and high school students can be found in used books stores.
9. Start a school uniform exchange.
If your child wears a school uniform, join or start a uniform exchange. It can be a formal program through the school or a casual swap with other parents you know. Some schools are supportive of uniform exchanges, but others are pressured by uniform suppliers not to participate in them. Uniforms can also be found at thrift stores, but it's more efficient to find the right style by asking a friend whose children have outgrown theirs before they donate them to a thrift store.