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Having 5 children and living on one income – you bet the name of the game is being frugal and figuring out how we can get what we need at the price we can afford!
Homeschooling adds an extra challenge because we also need to be able to afford curriculum, books, and lots and lots of school supplies. So. Many. School supplies.
Which is why I feel qualified writing this post, because I have been buying my school supplies as frugally as I can for the last several years. At least 6 years, probably longer, but I can't remember exactly when I started buying "school supplies" instead of just buying crayons every once in a while for my toddlers. But I've also tried to do it without losing my mind. If I miss one of the 100,000 sales or deals on school supplies, the world keeps on turning and the Pate household keeps on humming and I just be like Elsa and let it go. I don't have time to sit around mourning that I missed out on 1 cent binders or 5 cent notebooks because I couldn't drive 30 minutes to the nearest store that has that crazy good deal going on. Not worth it. Sanity saved.
So, how do I save money on our homeschool supplies?
The absolute first thing I do is shop the Back To School Sales in July and August.
Nothing beats 17 cent notebooks and 50 cent composition books and kid scissors and 25 cent boxes of crayons at Wal-mart. I try to stock up as much as I think we will need for the whole school year for those killer price items. Sometimes I will buy as many as 10 cheap notebooks per kid per year. One per month, just in case. My kids love paper. If there is leftover at the end of the school year, they just go into the stash for the next year, because notebooks don't go bad. Well, maybe after 10 years, they look a bit yellow, but they're still usable! Ask me how I know this. Well, maybe you don't want to know.
Anyways, I don't always find everything I need at good prices. Yeah, they make it seem like that box of pens is on sale, but it's not. I know better. Why? Because I pay attention to prices. Some people keep a notebook with items and stock up prices, which is a great idea! But I don't have the attention span to do that, so I store it in my head. Can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I can remember how much that box of pens is supposed to cost before I snatch it up. So, there are things I need to look elsewhere to find the deals I need. Surprisingly sometimes I find better deals online, especially on Amazon. Sometimes the exact thing we need isn't even at our local store, so we need to look online anyways.
Ordering On Amazon... and Subscribe and Save
We have been Amazon Prime members for several years. And I have been ordering things on the Subscribe and Save Program for a very long time, too. Even before we were technically homeschooling, we had babies in diapers, and the Subscribe and Save program (along with the Amazon Family Program) has always had the best consistent deals on diapers and wipes. Of course, then I discovered grocery items that were great deals on Subscribe and Save. And then in the last couple of years, I've found great school supply deals on Subscribe and Save as well. CHA-CHING!
A note about Amazon prices: They fluctuate, sometimes A LOT. So, buying at the right time – especially if you don't need the item in a hurry – is very important in the money saving game. Stick around until the end of this post and I'll share a really useful tool you may not know about to help you figure out if an Amazon item is at a good price point or not.
So, here are the BEST deals I get on Amazon. Some are Subscribe and Save deals. Some can ship ASAP at a great price.
Sometimes I wonder if elementary age kids secretly eat glue sticks for snack. Seriously, they slice through my glue stick stash like a hot knife through butter! So imagine my delight when I find out I can get 30 Elmer's glue sticks for less than $8.00 (including tax). The price fluctuates, but you find it often at a good price. And it is available on Subscribe and Save.
No need to sharpen these pencils! Which means I spend less time vacuuming or sweeping up pencil shavings! They are cleaner, more efficient, usually have better erasers on the ends, and come in several lead thicknesses – unlike most wood pencils. When shopping for school supplies at the sales this past Fall, I couldn't find the fine point pencils that my oldest son prefers. So I looked at Amazon.
Not only did I find packs of 24 and packs of 48 fine point (0.5 mm) mechanical pencils at a great price, I found the medium point (0.7 mm) and strong point (0.9 mm) at great prices too. The prices on these fluctuate a lot. Sometimes it is cheaper per pencil to buy the bigger 48 packs, but sometimes the 24 packs are an out of this world deal and worth stocking up! And they are available on Subscribe and Save. Just remember, if the price goes way down, you can buy several of these on Subscribe and Save and then cancel the subscription after they are shipped to you.
My favorite pens ever are the G2 fine point black gel pens. They are MY pens. Which means my daughter also wants to use them. But that's okay, because now I stock up. They write smoothly, and the barrel feels great in my hand and they don't feel super cheap and flimsy like bargain pens usually do. But they are usually kind of expensive at my local store. Finding a box of 12 on Amazon for less than $1.00 per pen was a wonderful surprise. At this price, I'm not quite as grumpy when I inevitably lose my pen I was using. I just get another one out of the box. No Subscribe and Save, but these are usually a great price anyways.
Okay, I'm going to admit it. I'm a paper snob. I don't like 20 lb paper and I don't like the paper brightness to be any duller than 95. So, what I'm saying is I like the more expensive stuff. And it costs $1-$2 more per ream at the local store than on Amazon. If it wasn't cheaper to buy it on Amazon, I wouldn't, because, truthfully, I would rather buy a ream at a time. But this Hammermill Premium Multipurpose Paper is nice heavy bright paper at the right price per ream. Just how I like it. So, 5 reams at a time it is! The price is good because it is available on Subscribe and Save. But if it goes up too much past $25 for the case, and I need paper now, I'll buy a ream locally.
Okay, there is a time and place for 25 cent crayons. And then there is a time for the best crayons ever! When I was looking into Waldorf schooling, I learned about beeswax crayons.
I didn't end up going the Waldorf route, even though I did like several things about it, but I did start buying beeswax crayons thereafter. They color so much better than your average crayon. The colors are more brilliant, the wax lays down on the paper more smoothly, and they are just better tools than the cheap crayons you buy at your local store.
Cheap crayons on the left, Beeswax crayons on the right. Too bad I'm clumsy and smudged the yellow a bit with my hand.
If you look at the comparison picture above and can't see the big deal, don't worry about it. Stick with the cheaper crayons. The cheap crayons get the job done, as you can see. But if you're like me and this picture makes you "Whoah!" you and your kids will appreciate having nicer tools to work with.
I couldn't even find beeswax crayons at the craft store in town, so Amazon is my go-to source. I buy the Faber Castell brand 24-pack beeswax crayons because they are more affordable than some of the more popular beeswax crayon brands (like Stockmar and Lyra), but they are still fantastic. Plus they often go on sale. And I love it when I can buy something amazing for cheap. They are also available in a 12-pack. The plastic case they come in is really handy to keep them organized, too.
I introduced my own kids to the wonderful world of oil pastels when I taught a Kindergarten through 3rd Grade Art class at our homeschool co-op. Two of my children were in the class, and my oldest was in the older art class, so the three of them got to work with oil pastels quite a bit. If you're not familiar with oil pastels, they are almost like crayons but much messier. That's because they are great for blending, and thinning out and other art techniques. My kids pretty much fell in love with them. But I have not found them at the amazing prices in local stores like I have on Amazon. These fluctuate greatly in price, but when you buy them at the right time at their rock-bottom price, it is totally worth stocking up. I have used both Pentel and Crayola, and they are both great. Pentel are thinner and cylinder shaped and come in packs of 12, 16, 25, 36, and 50, as well as a classroom pack. Crayola are shaped more like a crayon and are thicker and usually come in a 28 pack, although they have other versions and varieties.
Okay, maybe this isn't a school supply NEED. But I have a daughter who loves coloring with gel pens. Better yet, she likes coloring the adult coloring books that have much more intricate pictures to color, and that is a home run for working on fine motor skills. We like Lolliz Gel Pens.
Not only do they have great reviews, but what a fun name, amiright??
They are usually about $10 or $11 for a set of 48 colors, which is plenty. We bought the 2 pack when it went on sale for $14.99, and that is a good price. But if you want to go crazy, you could always pitch in the extra money for this insane set of Shuttle Art 120 gel pens – NO DUPLICATES. Whoah. We might have to get those next!
Other Art Supplies
I don't want to go too in-depth about other art supplies, just that I have found the best deals on art supplies on Amazon. I'll share a few deals that I have gotten with you. When I taught the art class last year, I tried to put together enough art supplies for each child to have crayons, colored pencils, markers, paint brushes, paper, paint, oil pastels, simple paint palettes, and for each to have a nice small set of drawing pencils and a nice eraser. All for about $20 per child. Whew!
Well, I was able to get crayons, colored pencils and markers for very cheap at back to school sales because I decided that those would be just fine for what we were using them for. There is cheap acrylic paint suitable for young artists available in large bottles that I could buy for the whole class to share, but it was hard to get some of the other supplies and stay under budget. As mentioned before, I got Pentel oil pastels for amazing prices because I bought at the beginning of the year. A little over $2 per 36-ct oil pastels. That is a serious stock up price!
I had to be a little more creative with drawing pencils, paint brushes, and erasers. I ended up buying them in bulk for a cheap per unit rate, especially the pencils. I had to shop around, find the best deal, find the different numbers of lead softness/hardness that I wanted them to have. I chose HB, 2B, 4B, and 6B. If I had to do it again, I would probably go with 4H, 2B, and 6B, because I learned that K-3rd graders like to push on their pencil leads as hard as they can, no matter what you say. I found packs of 12 pencils in each pencil number, and was able to save a lot of money in that way for others because it made the class more affordable for all the families involved.
I also found a 24 pack of art gum erasers for a great price. Worth it! So much better than those pink erasers.
I also found Prismacolor Premier colored pencils for half the price available at my local store and those are a very popular brand known for their very high quality. My kids love them!
By the way, if you ever need a manual pencil sharpener, this one is THE best I have ever used. No joke.
Okay, if you are a homeschooling mom, you need a laminator. If you are a Sunday School teacher, you also need a laminator. Even if you don't homeschool your kids or teach other people's kids, you NEED a laminator! This Scotch Laminating Machine works just dandy! Mine is a couple of years old now and still works great!
Laminate all the things! Chore charts, school schedules, reward/goal charts, name or subject labels for cubbies or shelves, bookmarks, your child's special artwork that you want to save forever, placemats, dry erase pages, photos you printed out, play-doh mats, and I could go on for a while! Don't forget the laminating pouches, you'll need lots of those after you realize how crazy amazing laminating things can be!
Whooooooahhhh, Now Wait a Second!!
So, maybe you clicked on some of those links and you thought, “Huh? That's not the best price! It can't be! What is she talking about? How do I know when the prices drop? Do I have to keep checking every item I want every day? I don't have time for that! Was this the most monumental waste of time in my whole life???? AHHHHHHHHH!!” No, my friend, and thank goodness! I could never keep track of these prices on my own! I need help. LOTS of help. I need someone keeping a constant lookout for the prices I want. Fortunately, FREE help exists! Here's the tip I promised you!
The Best Savings Tool For Amazon, In My Experience
I use a website called CamelCamelCamel to see the history of the item's price when I put a particular product's Amazon URL (web address) or Amazon description in the search box. It then takes you to a page that has the item picture and info at the top and the bottom looks like this:
You can see the history of the item's price through both Amazon and third-party sellers. You can see if the price seems to be trending up or down. You can see what the highest and lowest price on Amazon was or is. If the price is on the high end, you can set price watches that will email you when the product meets or goes below whatever price you are looking for.
There is also a Chrome browser add-on (and also on Firefox) called “The Camelizer” you can install that you can use while you are on Amazon. It puts a little button with a tiny camel on it.
I put a red circle around the Camelizer button so you can see where it is on my Chrome browser
When you press the button while on a product page, it will give you the price history of the item and the ability to set price watches, just as if you were on the CamelCamelCamel website:
A little window pops up that looks like this
It's a very handy website and browser extension, and I use it ALL the time. Seriously. I always consult CamelCamelCamel before buying anything on Amazon.
Just in case you think I sound too excited about CamelCamelCamel, let me reassure you, I get zero kickbacks from them. But they have helped me save so much money, I have to share with you all. This is something my husband discovered and showed me, and it has become an integral part of our Amazon shopping experience ever since. Because we order from Amazon quite a bit, as you might already suspect!