Thrift, Tips

School Supplies Shopping Tips (High School and College)

Summer is winding down, and for a lot of you, that means school is fast approaching (for some of you, school has already started). If you’re starting high school/college, you might not know what exactly to buy or bring on your first day of school. If you’re going back to high school/college, you might’ve pushed the idea of “school” so far back in the recesses of your brain that you can’t remember what you need for the year. Or if you’re a parent who has to help pay for a student’s supplies, you might not know what to buy. Have no fear, that’s why I’m here- to give you a guide for what to buy for the school year. In this post, I’ll give you my tips and tricks for buying school supplies and suggestions for where you can buy them (especially if you are on a budget) as well as a list of supplies that I’ve made from past experiences and the most-suggested items on the internet.


1. (If you’re starting school) Buy them after school starts

Most high schools and colleges don’t give you a list of school supplies you should buy. Chances are, the first day/week of school your teachers will list off everything you’ll need for the year. If you’re lucky, the teacher will be kind enough to post what you’ll need on your class schedule online, or will go over it in your open house. If they don’t, my advice is that you should buy most of your supplies after you know exactly what you need, but to always have certain necessities on hand (I’ll go over this in “List of Supplies You’ll Need”).

2. (If you’re going back to school) Buy them at the beginning of summer

If you’ve bought school supplies from any retail store during the END of summer, you might’ve noticed that school supplies can get really expensive and hard to find. At the beginning of summer, retail stores don’t sell as many supplies and don’t put out as many ads for them. If you buy your supplies at the beginning of summer, then you’ll most likely find more of them for less money. This tip is also especially useful if you are going BACK to school at the end of summer. You already know how many notebooks you need, how many binders you used, and how many stacks of filler paper you had to buy throughout the school year. Before throwing away or recycling all of those old school supplies, keep a list of the things you needed most. If, for example, you noticed that you went through dozens of pencils and had to keep buying/borrowing them after the beginning of the year, make sure that you get more pencils for next year. Also list off the things you didn’t use as much. If you bought four packs of glue sticks and only used one, then you know that you probably won’t need to get any for next year. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Re-use old supplies

This one is pretty much a given. Don’t just throw away things you didn’t use- save them for the following year. If you didn’t use up every sheet of paper in your notebook, reuse that notebook. Even notebooks I’ve used up and there’s maybe a fifth of it left- I cut out that fifth and use it as filler/scratch paper. If you also happen to have a parent who works at an office, ask them to bring home a pencil or two throughout the summer or go through the supplies they brought home but didn’t use.

4. Buy quality things that will last

Also a given. It might be tempting to go to your local dollar store and buy cheaply-made notebooks, but (trust me) they will fall apart within the first month or so, and then all your notes about the theory of relativity will have to be re-written and re-organized.

5. Buy them at places you wouldn’t think had school supplies

I’m talking Goodwill, Goodwill Outlet, most other thrift stores, and garage sales. Most Goodwills have sections dedicated to office supplies, where they come in little “goodie bags” or sold separately. It’s common to find a stapler for $1.99 or three/four packets of brand new filler paper for $2-3 as a bundle with a half-off sticker color. Their bundles can be a little tricky, though. I found a bundle that had a bunch of stuff I needed in it – pencils, pens, erasers, filler paper, and a couple of folders – but it also had a Hello Kitty notebook in it, too. I didn’t need or want the Hello Kitty notebook, but with the half-off sticker it was only $1.99, so I bought it anyway and gave the notebook to a cousin of mine. Goodwill Outlet is VERY tricky when it comes to buying school supplies, because a lot of it gets damaged and because they’re hard to find. But I’ve found a nice, brand-new (in it’s original wrapping) 3-ring fabric binder in there, and for only $1.50 a pound, that binder cost me like a quarter. Garage sales are also a great place to go for school supplies as you can haggle the prices and (typically) buy them in bulk. If you live in the Portland/Vancouver area, try SCRAP on MLK street. They sell used office and art supplies for dirt cheap, you just have to work a little to get the good stuff.

And now… onto the list! This list names all of the BASIC ESSENTIALS you will need for college or high school. Any list out there will give you things you “could” need, but this list is what you will definitely need while going to school. If you are a minimalist like me, then you will be able to go through your whole school year without needing anything else. If you need things to keep you organized or whatever, then you might need more than just these items.


  1. A backpack/bag of some sort
  2. Pencils/pens
  3. Erasers/white out
  4. Filler paper
  5. Notebooks
  6. Folders
  7. Planner
  8. Scissors
  9. Tape/glue
  10. Pencil sharpener
  11. Flashdrive/Laptop
  12. Calculator
  13. Lock
  14. Stapler/Paperclips
  15. Emergency things (i.e. deodorant, pads/tampons, hand sanitizer, tissues)

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