How I Shop For School Supplies Without Losing My Mind

Back-to-school shopping can be very stressful, time-consuming, and even expensive. All You shares tips on how to tackle one the busiest times of the year and save money without losing your sanity. Read the helpful tips below.


We're counting down to the first day of school with advice from a hand-picked panel of back-to-school experts: Moms with kids of every age and stage who also happen to be pros at saving time, money, and most important of all, sanity. Today, ALL YOU Health Director (and mom of two) Jeannie Kim shares her top-secret strategies for shopping for school supplies when saving time is more important than saving a couple of dollars.

I'll be honest here: I'm never going to win any awards for saving money on school supplies. Sure, I look for deals, but I'm no couponing superstar. My personal priority as a working mom is to save time and get everything done with the least possible damage to my sanity.

I have some friends whose kids' schools use a supply ordering service—the teachers upload the supply lists, you click on your kid's grade, and everything is delivered straight to the classroom. Jealous! Unfortunately for lazy me, our school does it the old-fashioned way, with the supply list coming home in the backpack on the last day of school. Here's how I round up everything without going crazy:

Shop early. Last year, my friend sent me a desperate text from the aisles of Staples on the Sunday before the first day of school: "HELLLLPPPP!" I was not surprised. In my experience, the longer you wait, the more chaotic the stores are, the emptier the shelves are, and the surlier everyone around you is.

Starting early not only helps you dodge the chaos, it also gives you time to look for deals and hunt down that one weird item (this year: a music notebook) without panicking. New York City schools usually start the first or second week of September; I aim to have most of the shopping done by the end of July, first week of August at the latest. If I see a school-supply perennial like hand sanitizer or Clorox wipes on sale, I've been known to stock up in April or May.

Shop without kids. There is something about taking children to Target that makes my brain turn off. I can't focus, I get super cranky, I forget half my list—and that's when they're behaving well. Add some whining in there and I basically just want to lie down in Housewares and die. So no children are allowed to come school supply shopping with me. I can take my time comparing prices, geek out over fun pens (yeah, I'm a school supply nerd), and no one has a meltdown (me included).

Exception: This year, I took my third-grader on a separate shopping trip so she could pick out her own notebooks. Heaven forbid I accidentally pick out a notebook not in her favorite colors. But that trip was for notebooks, and notebooks only.

Shop on a weekday. Don't get me wrong, I love Target pretty much any day of the week. But Target at 8:30 a.m. on a weekday, when there's no one there but cheerful employees having their super-positive morning team-building meetings? Heaven.

That's why last summer I actually took a day off work (in July, of course) so I could go school-supply shopping in the middle of the week. I avoided the crowds and got a little bit of what passes for "me-time" when you have a demanding job and two kids.

. . . Or shop on vacation. Last week, while on vacation, my husband and I left the kids with the grandparents and headed to the nearest Target for a Starbucks-and-school-supplies run. We got the pleasant weekday morning Target experience with the added bonus of a little couple time. (Granted, this is not the hottest date we have ever had.)

Outsource it all. My favorite year for school supply shopping was the year my daughter started kindergarten. Her little brother was born six weeks before the first day of school, and my husband and I physically could not handle getting the shopping done, even online. So . . . I emailed my dad the list and he did it for us.

Sure, he didn't buy exactly what I might have gotten myself (I personally would not have sprung for the 12-pack of glue sticks), but it definitely beat having to drag my sleep-deprived self to the store. That said, I can't really recommend giving birth as a practical way to avoid school supply shopping—at least not every year.

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