Niagara Gazette

September 3, 2013

Hit office supply, drug stores for school supply deals

By Danielle Haynes danielle.haynes@tonawanda-news.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It may be that time of year when parents are cheering their good fortunes, counting the hours in the day they can take back, reveling in the newfound quiet in their homes, but it’s also the time of year when the pocketbook may be taking a big hit.

Going back to school, while perhaps a relief for some parents’ peace of mind, can be a strain on the finances. Between back-to-school clothing, extracurricular activity fees and the seemingly never-ending list of necessary school supplies, some parents might be searching out the best way to save a few bucks here and there.

Tricia Suba, a Lockport mom who runs Tricia’s Frugal Finds, a frugal-living blog, said it’s always best to shop as far in advance as possible when it comes to getting the best deal possible on school supplies.

But if that’s not possible — it’s less than one week before school starts, afterall — or if your high school students don’t even know what supplies to get until the first day of school, there are a few tricks of the trade.

”For last-minute shoppers, obviously the big stores like Walmart and Target will still have reasonable prices on school supplies,” she said. 

”A lot of people may overlook the drug stores they will run deals right up until school,” she added.

Drug stores like Rite-Aid, CVS and Walgreens are also known for putting school supplies on sale periodically throughout the school year. Rewards programs available at all three chains — in which customers get a coupon to spend at the store at a future date — can make the items cheap or even free.

On a weekly basis, Suba details ways in which customers can use coupons in conjunction with drug store sales to save the most money and earn the most rewards. But don’t stop checking those drug store ads even if you’ve done all your shopping for this year.

”There are so many times you can stock up on name brand at the weirdest time of the year,” she said, adding that she only ever shops for name-brand school supplies if they’re on sale. She stocked up on some inexpensive Crayola products in the middle of last school year at Toys R Us, “of all places.”

The best place to get a good deal on school supplies without having to worry about couponing are office supply stores. Chains like Office Depot, Office Max and Staples often put certain supplies on sale for just a penny each as long as the customer spends a required amount, store-wide — often something like $5, Suba said.

The key is to stock up on these penny items — something the stores call loss leaders — when you see a sale, Suba said.

Tammy Brosius, a North Tonawanda mother of eight, said she prefers to stock up on these loss leaders, but she makes sure to do all her shopping weeks before her kids start back at school because she notices fewer penny sales the closer to school it is.

She said she spends about $300 on school supplies for her six children who are still in K-12 school. Her suggestion is to make sure to pay attention to the weekly ads. 

”Shop around,” she said. “You think you’re going to the cheap stores and you’re getting a deal but if you look in the paper you can find better deals than the bargain stores.”

Suba also suggests taking advantage of the price-match policy at Walmart. If you’re unable to find a particular item that’s on sale at Office Depot — or it’s not convenient to shop there — you can take the Office Depot ad to Walmart and get the same exact brand and size of item at Walmart for the same price. This can be done directly with the cashier; no need to visit customer service. 

Suba said office supply stores should still be offering their penny sales through the end of September, so be sure to keep an eye on the ads. 

For information on where to find the best shopping deals in the area, visit Suba’s blog at www.triciasfrugalfinds.com.

Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.