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A Teacher’s Guide to Preparing a Back-to-School Shopping List

Even though summer is just beginning, educators know that the earlier the better can be the key to finding the best back-to-school bargains.

Wait! Summer has just begun, and retailers already have a plan in place for the back-to-school shopping season! While setting all thoughts of the classroom aside over summer break may be what many perceive educators do, every teacher knows that there is no way to escape having their minds drift to that next set of faces that will fill the classroom at summer’s end. While perusing the ads for the best prices on sunscreen and summer reads, educators are always on the lookout for the first glimpses of discounted school supplies.

While some teacher allowances may have been given in the spring for ordering supplies, they never seem to cover all the necessities and creature comforts that most educators need to make the best learning environment for all stakeholders. Let’s face it, one would be hard-pressed to find a classroom where an educator’s own financial backing hasn’t been used to enhance the space and/or supplies within it. At some point over the summer, a shopping trip to fill in the gaps needed to get the year started right will be occurring, but hitting the stores with no plan in place can be a disorganized and costly endeavor. By taking time to prepare a list and research the best deals, a successful start to the school year can happen without breaking the bank.

Making the List

If teachers followed the guidelines for spring cleaning, the base of their list may already be formed. If not, these are some items that will typically find their way into carts and baskets during the back-to-school shopping season.


Pens/Pencils- Most teachers have a favorite go-to brand for their own usage. When picking up extras for student usage, it’s wise to stop in the craft aisle and find some flowers, feathers, or other accessories to attach to writing utensils that can be borrowed by students with the expectation of their return.

Paper/Spiral Notebooks/Folders- Any and all of these may make their way into the cart for a teacher’s personal use in managing information for each class, subject, etc. Many teachers also purchase larger quantities of these items to ensure all students have the proper supplies for a classroom and/or subject organizational plan.

Art Supplies- Glue sticks, construction paper, colored pencils, markers, etc. It seems that all K-12 classrooms are typically in short supply. Supplementing some district-provided quantities is likely in order. While there may be enough to start the year, it’s always smart to procure some extras when sales are often at their lowest.

Sticky Notes- There are never enough sticky notes to help organize, highlight, note take, etc. For teachers and students alike, these are a must have. A great item to place on students’ classroom supply lists too.


Crates/Bins- Most educators have worked hard to create a tried-and-true organizational system. This may be achieved by color-coding or an efficient labeling system. All the paperwork and supplies need to find a storage area, and some stackable crates and bins are a perfect solution.

Supply Boxes- Creating supply boxes for different learning stations or seating configurations can be quite beneficial when it comes to organizing. These can also be color-coded and labeled for easy identification.

Shopping to Complete the List

Once July 4th has passed, the Back-to-School shopping season is typically in full swing. This is the time for teachers to start paying close attention to sale circulars. Here are a few tips to follow when fulfilling those supply wish lists.

  • Generic brands can also mean generic performance. Sometimes the most inexpensive item isn’t actually a great find if it won’t stand up to consumable usage by students. Don’t be swayed by ridiculously low prices on off-brand glue sticks, pencils, and markers. A few cents more now can translate to extended usage later.
  • Pay attention to quantity specifications. There’s nothing more frustrating than counting out 100+ spirals for 10 cents each and finding that there is a limit of 10 per customer. Read the fine print and/or take a shopping posse along to get the needed amount.
  • Browse all the ads. The best bargains may be found in unexpected places. A retailer doesn’t have to specialize in office supplies to offer the best prices on them. Stocking up on inexpensive supplies can happen while awaiting a prescription refill.
  • Be aware of tax-free weekends. These weekends give shoppers at tax break on school supplies under $20 and clothing under $75. Ohio’s weekend for 2017 falls on August 4-6. This could allow for an additional savings on larger quantities and/or some pricier items. If an amazing deal comes for supplies prior to the tax-free break, it can often be best to take advantage though. This is where weighing the better savings option comes into play.
  • Think outside the box. Retailers aren’t the only places to find supplies. Browsing yard sales online and in person can lead to some new and/or gently used classroom finds. These can be anything from a bins of Legos for math manipulatives to discarded crates for sorting files to a cozy new seating option with a gently used price tag.

It’s not time to stop enjoying the much needed respite that summer break offers. It is time to start creating a game plan for procuring some affordable supplies to ensure that the upcoming school year gets off to a well-organized start. Making a list of what’s needed and even tacking on a few personalized items to bring some flair and fun to a teacher’s workspace is an excellent way to help educators alleviate one of the preparatory stressors of heading back to school.

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