Tips and Tricks for Successful School Supply Shopping


Six years ago, my three oldest children started Pre-K at the same time. That means I’ve been back to school shopping for multiple kids since the very beginning. Over the years I have learned some tips for how to make back-to-school shopping for multiple kids go smoothly. Follow these steps to save yourself some stress!

Step 1:  Look up the school supply list before you go shopping.

Yes, some stores have the school supply lists available when you go to the store, but with multiple kids, you can’t just glance at the list. You will want to do some prep-work before you start shopping. Take the time to look up the school supply list on the district or school website.

Step 2: Create one supply chart for all of your kids.

On a separate sheet of paper, chart the supplies your kids need this year. You can do this in Excel or by hand. You will want to list your children’s names in columns across the top of the page and create rows for each supply down the length of the paper.

Go through the school supply list for each child and fill in the chart. For example, if the 4th-grade list says colored pencils, you will “Colored Pencils” in the row and the number (in this case, 1) in the column for your 4th grader.

This is a picture of the chart I made this year. Clearly, I wasn’t concerned about presentation. I just needed a way to organize all the different lists.

From there, total the row to determine how many of each supply you will need. For example, I needed two erasers for both of my 5th graders, one for my 4th grader, and four for my 2nd grader, for a total of nine erasers.

Helpful tip: Don’t try to understand the amounts that each grade asks for. There is no discernible logic. Just accept it and move on.

Step 3: Get on the website for your favorite store and order all the supplies ONLINE.

Do NOT, I repeat DO NOT, think that it will be more fun to take the kids to the store. It will not be fun. Online shopping is so much easier for this sort of thing. You can literally type in #2 Presharpened Ticonderoga Pencils and see all your options.  You won’t have to go searching all over the school supply aisle while keeping an eye on your kids. You won’t have to wonder if you are missing a good deal while fielding purchase requests from your kids.

Use the totals from your chart to figure out how many things you need to buy. For some things, you will be able to get the exact amount you need. Others will be a little trickier to get the right amount. For example, I needed 9 erasers, but the best option was to buy them in packs of 6. So I ended up with 12. That’s okay. I’ll keep the extras at home.

Step 4: Wait for your order to arrive or pick it up at the store.

This year I ordered supplies before I went out of town for the weekend. I didn’t expect the supplies to show up at my house until Monday. But the store sent deliveries to my house on Saturday. I had to text my neighbor to get the packages off of my porch. So maybe try to plan your deliveries for a time when you know you will be home.

Step 5: Divide the supplies based on the original school supply list.

This is a fun time to involve your children. They can help read off their list and find their supplies out of the general pile. If you are really feeling creative you could even set up a “store” at home where they can pretend to shop for their supplies.

A lot of schools like to have you label the supplies with your child’s name. This is a good time to do that.

Step 6: Make notes of any supplies that are still missing

Unfortunately, there will probably be a few supplies that are left out of your order for various reasons. When I put together my order there were a few notebooks that were out of stock. I didn’t realize they had been canceled from my online order until I was helping my kids divide up their supplies. I also remembered we never ordered a watercolor paint set. And one set of headphones was never delivered. I had to make a quick run to the store to buy the few remaining supplies and I had to contact the seller to see about the missing headphones.

This was still easier than trying to buy all the supplies in person.

Step 7: Drop off the supplies

Most schools like you to bring the supplies in on Back to School night. It is easier than having them in your child’s backpack on the first day of school.

Some more helpful tips:

Verify with your school that they really do want everything on the supply lists. Sometimes the lists are compiled by the district which means individual teachers don’t really have a need for everything on the list. It’s not fun to have school supplies go unused. So if this is your first time at a school, you might want to check to see who made the list.

Check amounts carefully. This year I accidentally ordered double the number of pencils I needed because I thought the boxes were 24-count when they were really 48-count.  Oops.  At least we’ll have a great pencil supply at home this year.

Save supplies at the end of the year.  Some things like pencil boxes and scissors can be reused from year to year (or sibling to sibling). When school supplies come home at the end of the year, save the supplies to use again.

Hopefully this helps you as you embark on school supply shopping this year!