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Tips and tricks to ease school supply shopping stress

It's that time again -- time to shop for school supplies. According to local bargain blogger Jolyn Felten, from now ...more
It's that time again -- time to shop for school supplies. According to local bargain blogger Jolyn Felten, from now until Aug. 15 is the time to get the best deals on school supplies.
Maureen Feighan
Aa

It's enough to make any parent with school-age children, seasoned or not, break out into a cold sweat in mid-August: school supply shopping lists.

Supply lists have become a rite of passage for parents and children as the school year approaches, dictating what your child should bring to help stock his or her classroom for the year. Slightly different from school to school and grade to grade, these lists include everything from tissues and crayons to notebooks, folders, and highlighters. And they can induce serious headaches as parents stalk store aisles, looking for exactly the right size highlighters.

Luckily, there are multiple ways these days to get the supplies kids need — without losing your cool in the middle of Meijer or breaking the bank.

In search of a combination lock, Andrew Drenth, 22, of Detroit looks over school supplies at Meijer ...more
In search of a combination lock, Andrew Drenth, 22, of Detroit looks over school supplies at Meijer on Eight Mile Road in Detroit on Sunday.
Robin Buckson, The Detroit News

Many retailers such as Staples and Office Max now offer online shopping programs that let you pick all your kids' supplies with a click of a mouse button and have it shipped to your house. And with curbside shopping available at places such as Meijer and Kroger, you could also pick up your children's entire supply lists without even getting out of your car (or breaking a sweat).

But if you want to get the best deal, retail experts say timing matters — and now is the time to get the cheapest prices on school supplies, says Jolyn Felten, a Metro Detroit mom of four and local bargain hunter, who blogs weekly about the best deals in Metro Detroit (bargainstobounty.com). 

"In Michigan, I would say that most of the best school supply deals fall between July 15 and Aug. 15," said Felten. "The deals start to diminish the closer we get to Labor Day — and with most Michigan schools starting after Labor Day, the selection can be picked over if you wait until the last minute to tackle that supply list."

A rainbow of Elmer's glue awaits back-to-school shoppers at Meijer on Eight Mile Road in Detroit on ...more
A rainbow of Elmer's glue awaits back-to-school shoppers at Meijer on Eight Mile Road in Detroit on Sunday.
Robin Buckson, The Detroit News

Supply lists vary from school to school. Some go beyond basic classroom supplies and even ask parents to have their students bring in items like Play-Doh, paper plates or paper towels. One school in the Riverview School District requested that kindergartners bring in coffee filters.

And while some lists can seem excessive — one school in Dearborn asked second-graders to bring in five dozen pencils each, along with 30 glue sticks and 10 boxes of tissue — teachers will often parcel these supplies throughout the entire school year.

Still, by law, no parent is required to bring in these supplies, says David Mustonen, a spokesman for Dearborn Public Schools.

"Technically we don’t require students to bring anything," said Mustonen. "Public education is free. So we can’t require or ask any students to bring supplies. We have to provide all the necessary items for students."

That doesn't mean schools don't request items. And they do.

Online shopping

Still, there are ways to make your life a little easier when it comes to purchasing these supplies. If convenience matters more than price, consider the online shopping tool that office supply retailers such as Staples and Office Depot now offer.

Both have search engines that let you search for your school's supply list by your ZIP code. Once your child's school pops up, you can simply purchase all the requested supplies online.

It may not be the cheapest route — a supply list for a third-grader in West Bloomfield, for example, cost $98 for 28 items — but it's certainly convenient.

Staples works with a website called TeacherLists.com to make sure it's supply lists are accurate. Considered the largest search engine for school supply lists, it covers 1.6 million classrooms and more than 60,000 schools across the country. Ashley Swenson, Staples' vice president of retail marketing, says it's a way to "uncomplicate the chaos" and make school shopping easy for everyone.

"When shopping online, parents and students can find their school list, purchase (it) and have everything ready for in-store pickup or shipped right to their doorstep," said Swenson an email.

Some retailers also offer a cash back option for schools that sign up for them. Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield, for example, is teaming up with a website, Yubbler.com. There are supply lists for each grade level and 50% of the profits will go back to the school, according to the website.

Other websites — 1stdayofschoolsupplies.com or edukitinc.com, for example — offer similar programs but it's often up to a school's PTO to opt in.

"Your school can opt in to a program like that and teachers select what they want in the box," said Felten in an email. "Though it's fairly pricey (the kits I saw were in the $70-90 range), many busy parents find them helpful and may want to encourage their PTO to get on board."

Mike Meadows, president and founder of 1stdayschoolsupplies.com, says his company is one of the largest in the industry. Their niche, he says, is that they only offer brand name supplies, not generic.

“We give parents the exact school supplies their teachers request,” said Meadows in an email. “We partner with schools across the country and in Michigan. They in turn promote us to the parent base at their school. All of the list are approved and certified by both teachers and the schools.”

Shop around

If cost is a concern, shop around, suggests Felten. Don't forget stores such as the Dollar Tree for items such as paper plates or paper towels. Even Menard's has deals on certain items, she said.

"If you can avoid it, don't tackle that supply list all at once," Felten suggests. "While most stores have reduced their prices on supplies during this season, you'll save the most money buying the items that are 'doorbuster' type discounts each week."

Sometimes you don’t need to shop at all. Before you start buying more supplies, you may be amazed at what items you already have laying around the house or leftover from previous school years.

Felten says her family tries to reuse as much it can year to year.

"That means if the backpack still works, it's washed and used again," she said. "The same goes for scissors, ruler, calculator, et cetera."

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

School supply shopping tips

  • Shop now. Bargain blogger Jolyn Felten says the best deals on school supplies are offered between July 15 and Aug. 15.
  • If cost isn't an issue, consider buying supplies online. Staples teams up with TeacherLists.com and has thousands of supply lists plugged right into their website than can be purchased with a click of a button.
  • Consider a prepackaged supply kit for next year. Some schools team up with online supply companies such as 1stdayschoolsupplies.com or edukitinc.com that will ship your kit once you order it right to your child's school. 
  • For better deals, shop around. Retailers such as Office Depot will offer doorbuster deals each week, says Felten.

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