Saving on school supplies doesn’t require a trip to the big-box office supply store to fight the crowds for the last few spiral notebooks. 

Instead, get creative and you can save money and minimize your stress getting ready for school.

1. Start by hunting at home.

Most families, especially those with several kids, are likely to have a good number of the items on their back-to-school list around the house. Have your kids go on a scavenger hunt before heading to the store, and challenge them to find as many supplies as possible. Even if you pledge a reward of one special item, like a character-themed notebook, you’re still likely to spend less overall if you take the time to find out what you have on hand.

2. Know the difference between ”cheap” and a ”bargain.”

The lowest price item may not be the better buy, warned Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of, an online site that offers a roundup of product reviews and deals.

Take backpacks, for instance. It’s possible to find packs aimed at students for $20 or less, but if they’re not well made, chances are you’ll be heading back to the store for a replacement before school is out. That could mean double the cost or even more.

And with studies showing back pain becoming common even among middle school kids, buying a well-designed backpack that can distribute the weight of heavy textbooks properly is important, Frietchen said.

3. Buy in bulk online and share the savings.

Buying a large quantity from an online discounter will help you save per item, but the real key is finding others to split the purchase with you.

Frietchen suggested reaching out to neighborhood or parent organizations for purchasing partners. ”That’s a better solution than buying 10 pencils at a time,” she said. ”You can get 200 pencils at a time and split them up among all the kids.”

4. Spread your spending around.

There’s tight competition for retail dollars. In the struggling economy, everyone wants a piece of your back-to-school budget. That means there are bargains available in unexpected outlets, like dollar stores, craft stores, supermarkets and chain drug stores. Cherrypick the best deals while doing your normal shopping and you’ll likely find you’ve found everything on your list with less effort, and lower prices, than if you buy everything in one store at the same time.

5. Procrastinate where possible.

The week after classes start, the big back-to-school sales morph into clearance sales. By putting off purchasing items that aren’t needed the first few days of school, you can find substantial savings at stores that need to clear their shelves to get ready for the next big spending rush, the holidays.