14 Back-to-School Dollar Store Deals—Plus 6 Pro Shopping Tips!

6 Minute Read

We love the dollar store. It’s a breeze to get in and out of, and it’s super affordable. Plus, there’s no waiting on sales to get a good deal! That’s why it’s one of our favorite places to snag school supplies on a budget.

While back-to-school basics may vary based on your child’s grade and school, it’s mostly the same stuff. Here’s a sample of our 14 favorite dollar store buys. Be sure to keep reading for more pro tips on how to save while you shop!

1. Pens. Keep it simple. No one needs 16 shades of sparkly gel pens. Black or blue should do the trick.

2. Pencils. Last time we checked, pencils come with erasers. Don’t bother with a pack of multicolored caps until they actually need them. Sadly, these pencils may not even last that long.

3. Handheld Pencil Sharpener. Great for those times when there’s a line at the classroom pencil sharpener, or your kid is mid-test and snaps their No. 2 in half.

4. Three-Ring Binders. Find out exactly how many binders they need before you start buying these up.

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5. Pocket Folders. Depending on the store, you can likely snag two or three folders for a buck!

6. Spiral Notebooks/Composition Notebooks. You can usually start with one—unless your child’s teacher wants a notebook for each subject. If they want you to buy 12 from the get-go, ask why.

8. Graph Paper. A little graph paper goes a long way. If you have several kids, split the pack.

9. Scissors. Can your child have "real" scissors? Or do they need the safety kind? Get the right pair the first time so you’ll avoid buying them twice.

10. Glue Sticks/Liquid Glue/Tape. You probably don’t need all three—even if the school supply list says you do. Start with a glue stick. Just remind your kiddo to put the cap back on!

11. Crayons/Markers/Colored Pencils. Do they really need all of these? Pick one or two and stick with a straightforward pack of shades. They’ll survive without an assortment of neons, fine-lines and permanents.

12. Ruler. Buy one.

13. Sticky Notes. What will these be used for? Marking book pages? Taking notes? Get the right size, and you should only need one pack.

14. Highlighters. These aren’t for coloring—they’re for highlighting. One should last a long time. Just stick with yellow.

6 Pro Shopping Tips:

But what about that all the other stuff your kid needs? There’s usually more to back-to-school than scissors, glue and binders. Save even more with these six pro shopping tips:

1. Take inventory of what you already have.
You can reuse last year’s lunch boxes, crayons, pencil pouches, and backpack (after a good cleaning, of course). If you have younger kids, make it a game. See how many of last year’s supplies they can find in their room, under their bed, and in that random drawer in the kitchen. You’ll be surprised at how much you still have from past school years.

Pro Tip: After this school year ends, grab a clear plastic bin from the dollar store and fill it with all their leftover supplies. This will save you a bundle next year!

2. Label everything!
How many times have you purchased all your child’s back-to-school items, only to have them go missing in a few months? Pencils all look the same. So do markers. So do scissors. Grab a permanent marker and write your child’s name on everything. This way, when they lose stuff (and they will) at least some of it will find its way back.

Pro Tip: Some teachers collect and disperse all the supplies instead of allowing each child to keep their own. If this is the case, you don’t want to label anything. Ask your child’s teacher before you have to repurchase it all!

3. Stack your savings by going on tax-free weekend.
Yes, tax-free weekend can be a madhouse. But the good news about shopping at the dollar store: It’s way less nuts-o than a big-box store.

Pro Tip: Go early, have your list, and get out! The longer you stay, the more likely you’ll buy stuff you don’t need "because it’s tax-free weekend."

4. Buy the essentials now, and wait on the other stuff.
If your budget is tighter than usual, don’t worry. Get the main stuff your child needs for the first month and budget for the rest next month. We’re talking pencils, paper and folders. They can borrow glue, scissors and crayons for a few weeks.

Pro Tip: Give your child the budgeted money for their school supplies and let them be in charge of sticking to it. You’ll teach them a valuable lesson about budgeting and give them some incentive to take care of their stuff (hopefully!).

5. Find deals on everything else.
The dollar store has its limits. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get deals on laptops, uniforms and books elsewhere. Determine to get a deal, and you probably will.

Pro Tip: Buy refurbished and/or used laptops or graphing calculators online (or ask family and friends who have older children—these might just be laying around collecting dust!). If your child needs a school uniform, join your school’s uniform exchange or visit thrift stores near your child’s school. And order required reading books on Amazon for as little as one cent, plus $4 shipping!

6. Classroom wish lists are suggestions, not requirements.
If you have several children, buying a long list of wish-list supplies (like hand sanitizer, paper towels, tissues and hand soap) can add a bunch to your overall tab. Don’t feel pressured to fulfill everything on this list right now.

Pro Tip: Buy one item now and plan to bring extra supplies mid-year, when things are running low. Your child’s teacher will likely appreciate this much more than a "World’s Best Teacher" mug.

Related: New or Used: Which Is the Better Buy for These 13 Items?

The Big Takeaway:

Be strategic when you’re shopping for back-to-school supplies and don’t throw your budget to the wind in the name of your child’s education. Your kiddos will still get a great education without Disney-themed pencils, markers and folders.

Be strategic when you’re shopping for back-to-school supplies and don’t throw your budget to the wind in the name of your child’s education.

Buy what they need, not what they want (unless they want to splurge with their own cash, or course). And if they need more supplies later on, work it into your budget then. The dollar store will still be there.

If you’re looking for an easy way to budget on the go, check out EveryDollar, our free budget software that’s accessible from your computer and smartphone!

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