People always comment on my ridiculous love of school supply shopping. I know - it's an illness - and I have no problem admitting that. I used to force myself to wait until August to buy anything. Now, I start as soon as the ads do. While "others have excuses; I have my reasons why" (thank you, Nickel Creek).
I've always loved stationery stores. Pens, paper, you name it - as a child, that kind of stuff lured me in faster than any toys could. While they still have their allure, my reasons for hitting Staples (and Office Depot and Target and Walmart and Walgreens and...) in early July go far beyond their allure. It's really about self-preservation and a happy budget. As a private school teacher, I pay for most of my own supplies as well as my classroom supplies. As a mother of 4 children, I pay for everything (whoever believes public school education is free has been quite misled). My husband works for the public school system, and I am well aware that public school teachers pay for more than their fair share, as well.
So, I started watching the back-to-school ads very closely - and making a weekly trek to multiple stores to get their best deals. Beginning in July, I examine all of the weekly ads and determine which stores are worth visiting. The ones mentioned above are my favorites (in that order) but many drug stores and grocery stores are worth watching. I especially pay close attention to the penny deals (right now, Staples has 1 cent glue, packs of pens, and 24 ct. crayons). Next comes 25 cent, 50 cent, and dollar deals. Of course, there are limits and, often, rebates are involved. However, my experience has been that the rebates are returned very quickly. And, interestingly, if you are a teacher, many stores will exempt you from the limit on sale items. So, if the ad says "limit 4" on 25 cent glue sticks, you can get as many as you want. Staples and Office Depot both have "teacher rewards" cards - in fact, at Staples, the only thing that teachers can not exceed the limit for are the penny deals (new policy this year). But, if you use your teacher reward card, you can buy as many of the penny deals as you want - you pay the full price, but they send you a reward check at the end of the month that reimburses you for the full cost of those items. The reward check can only be used in Staples (like a store credit) so it is not the same as a rebate - but well worth it!
The real trick is following the ads and waiting for the best deals. For example, Staples has marble composition books for $1 this week - not a bad deal. But, I know from experience that throughout the next few weeks, someone will sell them for 50 cents or even 25 cents. I'll be watching. The ads truly do change from week to week - and it is important to get the good deals as they appear. However, I've found that waiting too long can backfire - I've tried back to school shopping so late in August that there was nothing left. Not good.
My other strategy is to stock up on all the good deals - not just what my kids or I have on our supply lists. I keep a large bin filled with all our "extra" school supplies and we "shop" from that throughout the year. There are plenty of times when someone needs a folder or extra pencils, and, at some point in the school year, the teachers make a desperate plea for glue sticks. It's nice having those things on hand so I don't need to worry about buying them later. In fact, my stock from last year was so good, I am starting my kids back-to-school shopping there before I head out to any stores. We'll see how far I get. I have a friend who uses a similar strategy with household items (toiletries, cleaning products, etc) - but I haven't started that yet. Another project for another day.
OOH, another tip - and this one is a bonus. I keep the kids bookbags (which I washed at the beginning of the summer) and their supply lists in a central place - and as I buy the supplies, I place them in the correct bookbag. It's easier than having to sort through it all just before school starts. Excessive? Maybe. But with 4 kids, it keeps me sane.
So, there it is, my sickness - justified like a strategy.