Of course this depends on what you are in the market for. But, no matter what you are in need of, there is a place to find your affordable school supplies without breaking the bank.
Paper and other writing supplies: One of the best places is your local Goodwill and ARC Thrift Stores. They almost always have donated notebooks, pens, pencils, markers, glue sticks and the like. Walmart can’t even beat these prices in most cases.
Laptops & Netbooks: Whether you like it or not, everyone needs one. Sifting through all the options and prices can be daunting. However, tigerdirect.com has a great selection and has some of the cheapest prices you’ll find. Even big box stores like Best Buy cost more for the same product, probably because they assume you want all sorts of extras.
Anti-Virus and other software: Feel uncomfortable about buying a new laptop/netbook without those expensive packages that ‘slim down’ or ‘speed up’ your computer by deleting unnecessary free trial software? Worried about anti-virus software? Get this: Chances are your child/teen/college student knows how to delete these things in less than 5 minutes! Also, most universities have FREE anti-virus software for all students. They want to keep their servers as safe as possible and make this available for free.
Microsoft Office: If you’re buying for a college student or you are a college student buying for your child/teen, Microsoft has a student discount (for more info).
Backpacks: Again, local thrift stores are the best. My wife found an Eddie Bauer backpack with tags still on it at Goodwill in Milwaukee for less than $20. Chances are though, if your kid wants that super cool pop star on his/her bag, you might have to bite the bullet and go to Walmart or Target.
Books/Textbooks: Everyone knows about Amazon.com, half.com, and all those online stores. However, few know about allbookstores.com. This site doens’t sell anything themselves. Instead, they bring together all other companies including those I just mentioned and many others. You are then presented with a table showing the sellers’ names, price, shipping costs, new/used, and condition of the book.
Tip: Always look a textbook or other book up by its ISBN number (that little number under the barcode) because there are different editions of textbooks and books with similar titles.
Craigslist.com: Never underestimate the power of the Internet! Craigslist is localized by area or city. Each of these local pages have ‘free’ classifieds. You’d be amazed what you can find for free. And its not all garbage!
Craigslist also has all sorts of ads. I found a law firm in Milwaukee that was going digital and selling their unwanted 3″ 3-ring binders (good ones cost $10 easily) for 5 for $10! As a graduate student who uses these often, I saved over $100 by buying two cases of these binders.
Other ideas: Keep an eye on Office Depot, Walmart, and Target weekly ads. As school gets closer, these big box stores will work hard to entice you to shop at their store with BOGOs and other great values for school supplies. Be careful not to fall into the trap of buying other stuff while you’re there, otherwise that sale loses its value.