What’s your Back-to-School Shopping Style?

August 20, 2021

I’m not sure how it’s that time of year again, but it is. Seems like it was only a few months ago I was packing backpacks full of supplies and wondering how many pencils they really, actually needed to make it through the year. And here I am once again plotting feverishly to secure our annual bounty. 

They say shopping is an art and in the pursuit of all art you can only achieve two of the dearly desired: Fast, Cheap and Good. 

School supplies in a pile


I most definitely have a back-to-school shopping style. It’s “cheap”. I spend less than $25 for 2 kids and it’s a game each year to see just how low I can get that. 

Thanks to a combo of environmental anxiety and the frugalness instilled by my great depression Grandma, this cheap person starts with pulling out all the old supplies from the previous year and evaluating what can be re-used. 

Rulers, calculators, pencil cases, geometry sets and binders I almost never buy twice. Don’t tell my kids but they’ve used the same 4 red pens for their entire elementary school career and they don’t look like they’ve aged a day. There’s always loose leaf left over and notebooks often have unused pages that can be removed or adapted for a second life. Those duo-tangs just need a new label over the old one and they are good to go.

I also find homes for the things I can’t use at school next year.  I’ve learned things like pens, markers and highlighters can be recycled at Saskatchewan business locations through programs from Terra Cycle, and the internet is filled with ideas on what to do with old crayons. Our favourite is to re-purpose them into an art project activity for a rainy day by melting them down.  As a thrifty bonus, this then becomes a source of free birthday party favors or handouts for school theme days like Halloween or Valentine’s day. 

Once I’ve assessed last year’s stock, I turn my attention to what’s missing. Finding and interpreting the lists is half the battle.  Does it really need to be that brand? That size? How close is close enough? I let the money do the talking here. If I have something close, that’ll work. If something’s on sale, that’ll work too. 

The sales start coming in at the end of July/early August and I pour over flyers and websites to find the best deals. You can find most things you need for less than a dollar and I’ve learned prices will almost always drop somewhere sometime in August to less than a quarter for these key staples:

  • Glue
  • Duo-tangs
  • Pencils
  • Crayons
  • Loose leaf
  • Coil notebooks

Other tips: 

  • You don’t need to pay for pencil sharpeners. You can get them for free with pencil crayons.
  • Don’t wait on large glue sticks. The big ones sell out quickly so when you see them, scoop them up. You can always return them if you come across a sale! 
  • It’s most cost-effective to pick up non-stationery things like headphones or facial tissue in the same store you would normally get those year-round, and typically to do it early.  Prices often go up and inventory down the closer to back-to-school season you get. 

Is it worth spending time and money going to different stores at different times to get the best deal? That’s up to you. Some places will deliver, and some spends can be added to a grocery order I’m already picking up – I don’t make special trips, I just plan it well. 

Woman looking at school supplies in store.


What my “cheap” approach is not, is fast. I’m definitely spending time strategizing and waiting for the right moment to pounce.

If time is money for you and fast is more your style, schools and businesses have begun partnering on packaged order options in recent years. Through programs like https://schoolstart.ca/ or the Saskatchewan-based alternative https://www.startrightsupplies.ca/, you can now order everything your teacher wants at once delivered right to your door or school in time for class.

This approach is so easy, but the catch is you need to order early. They often have deadlines or are sold out by July.


If you are one of the good ones looking for quality, not only in the items you buy but your buying experience, back-to-school shopping can be a lovely chance to let kids express themselves.  There are some great local shops to find unique pens and stationery in Saskatchewan such as Regina’s Paper Umbrella and Saskatoon’s Soul Paper.  

There are also some convenient locally owned one-stop shops to try such as Estevan’s House of Stationery and North Battleford’s Bee J’s Office Plus where you might just achieve the elusive balance of all three shopping goals – Fast, Cheap and Good.

While I’m proud of my gamified shopping style (which also works fantastic for groceries), clothes are an entirely different matter that I have not mastered despite being in my third decade of being a mom.  Anyone out there got a Cheap Person’s Guide to Kids Clothing in Saskatchewan they can send my way?

-Nova Alberts is a Marketing Manager on the Brand and Platforms team at Directwest.