The Best Places to Buy School Supplies to Save Time and Money

Amazon has a storefront dedicated to all things back-to-school

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Verywell Family / Lecia Landis

Shopping for school supplies can be an overwhelming endeavor, especially if you’re on a budget or shopping for multiple children. But saving time and money—and maintaining your sanity—is possible if you know where to shop, how to find the best deals, and when to buy school supplies to maximize your savings.

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Amazon’s back-to-school storefront tops our list as the best overall place to buy school supplies because it’s a one-stop shop for everything from paper goods to clothing to computers. And for unique finds and personalized gear, you can’t go wrong with Etsy’s back-to-school site.

We created this list of best places to buy school supplies by comparing major retailers and small businesses and considering key factors such as price, convenience, and product selection. We also looked at rewards programs, shipping costs, and return policies and spoke to budgeting expert Andrea Woroch to find the best tips and tools to save you money. 

Here are the best places to buy school supplies.

Our Picks

Best Overall: Amazon Back to School

Best Eco-Friendly: EarthHero Back to School

Best Budget: Walmart Back to School

Best for Bulk Shopping: Costco Back to School

Best for Name Labels: Mabel's Labels

Best Unique: Etsy

Best Sensory: Ark Therapeutic

Best for Art Supplies: Michaels

Best for Tech: Amazon

Best for College Students: Bed, Bath & Beyond

Best Overall: Amazon Back to School

4.8
Amazon school supplies

Amazon

Pros
  • Vast selection of products

  • Competitive prices

Cons
  • Some independent retailers that sell through Amazon are not vetted

If you want to sit down at your computer and do all your shopping in one fell swoop, Amazon’s back-to-school storefront is your best bet. The site is organized by age group and product category, and there’s even a search bar that helps you find your specific school’s supply list by providing your zip code (for participating schools). From crayons and lunch boxes for kindergarteners to celebrity-curated lists and dorm room must-haves, Amazon has it all. 

If you have a subscription to Amazon Prime, all your school supplies will ship free within a couple of days, and you’ll also have access to member-only deals and exclusive sales on Prime Day. Membership costs $15 per month or $139 per year, but free 30-day trials are available and let you take advantage of the perks without the long-term commitment. College students can also sign up for a Prime student membership, which offers a free six-month trial and a rate of $7.49 per month after the trial period.

Shipping Cost: Free shipping for most purchases over $25 and for Prime members | Return Policy: Amazon and most independent sellers offer returns for items within 30 days of receipt of shipment. Certain items, including downloadable software, groceries, prepaid game cards, and computer hardware outside the 30-day window cannot be returned | Rewards/Perks: Amazon Prime members are eligible for special deals on Prime Day, discounts for Prime members only, free shipping, and try-before-you-buy privileges. An Amazon Rewards Visa credit card is also available and offers up to 5% back on purchases

Best Eco-Friendly: EarthHero Back to School

EarthHero school supplies

EarthHero

Pros
  • Environmentally conscious and plastic-free supplies 

  • Also offers home goods, clothing, sports equipment, and more

Cons
  • Most mainstream brands are unavailable

  • Products may be more expensive than traditional versions

EarthHero is an amazing resource for anyone trying to reduce the plastic in their life or looking for more sustainable alternatives. Most products are made of recycled or upcycled materials, like notebooks, planners, and scissors, and every item purchased on the site is packed and shipped without plastic. EarthHero also offsets all of its shipping carbon emissions.

The site stocks supplies like pens made from cork, beeswax crayons, and 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled notebook paper, as well as organic cotton book bags and pencil cases, a vast array of reusable metal and silicone lunch containers, and phone charging docks made of wood.

Shipping Cost: Free shipping on orders over $60 | Return Policy: Free returns within 30 days of purchase for most items that are unused, undamaged, and in their original product packaging (exceptions apply) | Rewards/Perks: Referral discounts available. Reward points can be earned on every purchase and by reviewing products on the site

Best Budget: Walmart Back to School

Walmart back to school

Walmart

Pros
  • Great prices

  • Huge selection

Cons
  • Some online products are sold by third-party sellers

Walmart, like Amazon, is known for selling just about everything under the sun at competitive prices. The “Under $1” section alone includes some great finds on basic items every student needs: a box of 12 number two pencils for $0.47, a two-pack of Elmer’s glue sticks for $0.54, and $0.50 Crayola crayons (24-pack). 

If basic supplies are what you need, Walmart is the place to get them. The website is organized by grade level to make browsing easier. The giant retailer also offers a wide selection of computers and tech accessories, and you can stock up on any other name-brand essentials, from clothing to first aid and beyond, all in one place.

Shipping Cost: Free on orders over $35 | Return Policy: Returns accepted on most items within 90 days with some exceptions (prescriptions, certain electronics, and perishable items) | Rewards/Perks: Walmart+ is a paid rewards program ($12.95/month or $98/year) that offers savings on gas, free grocery delivery, and free shipping on online orders

Best for Bulk Shopping: Costco Back to School

Costco back to school

Costco

Pros
  • Competitive prices

  • Great for large families or teachers buying supplies for several students

Cons
  • Requires membership to shop

  • Large packages may be too much for one or two kids

You might know Costco as the beloved mega store where you can get jumbo-sized everything at discounted prices and super cheap rotisserie chicken, but did you know it’s also a great place to buy school supplies?

Browse Costco’s office supplies section, and you’ll find notebooks, art supplies, and writing tools. Explore the clothing department to shop for fashion and uniforms. In the toys and books department, you’ll find educational options such as Highlights box sets and complete chapter book collections. And markdowns on laptops and computers abound in the electronics section.

Of course, as with everything in Costco, you’ll have to go big or go home. Although a 12-pack of wide-ruled notebooks might be just what you need if you’re buying supplies for multiple kids, it may be too much for one or two students—but you can always stock up on snacks.

Shipping Cost: Shipping is free on most items | Return Policy: Returns are accepted on most Costco items at any time, with a few exceptions. Electronics, including computers, are accepted within a 90-day return window, customized items are non-refundable, and products with a limited useful life expectancy, such as tires and batteries, may be sold with a product-specific limited warranty | Rewards/Perks: Price adjustments are honored, Costco Executive memberships offer 2% back on all purchases, awarded annually

Best for Name Labels: Mabel's Labels

Mabel's Labels

Mabel's Labels

Pros
  • Labels are durable and customizable

  • Dishwasher-safe and laundry-safe

Cons
  • Packs include large quantities that may be unnecessary

Mabel’s Labels has taken a practical concept and turned it into something great. The company offers a wide variety of options for colors and fonts on tags that come in many shapes and sizes, so your kids can get in on the fun of choosing how to design their labels. 

The company also offers bag tags, allergy alert labels, ID bracelets, and specialty packs for sports with specifically sized labels that will fit equipment like bats, balls, and other gear, too. First-time customers can get a 20 percent discount by signing up for the Mabel’s Labels newsletter.

Shipping Cost: Standard shipping is free | Return Policy: Mabel’s Labels offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee on all its products | Rewards/Perks: My Mabel Rewards members can get discounts, coupons, and access to special sales

Best Unique Supplies: Etsy School Supplies

Etsy School Supplies

Etsy

Pros
  • A wide variety of customized and unconventional items

  • Supports small entrepreneurs

Cons
  • Sales and free shipping offers are uncommon

Etsy and its many artisans and vintage sellers have changed the way many of us shop for gifts and decor, but the treasures you can find on the site go beyond pretty things. Etsy has a thriving school and office supply section where you can find thousands of items that are unique and customizable—which is important when every kid at school has the same water bottle, lunch box, or folder and the lost and found is a sea of sameness. 

On Etsy, you can personalize just about any school item you might need, from pencils to backpacks to laptop cases. For high school and college-aged students, you can also find a large selection of beautiful, unique items like leather-bound planners, care package-style boxes that contain essentials like laundry detergent, shower supplies and snacks, and unique dorm room gear like embroidered bedding, clever small-space storage solutions, and customizable charging stations.

Shipping Cost: Each individual Etsy seller determines its own shipping rates | Return Policy: Individual sellers determine their own return policies | Rewards/Perks: None

Best Sensory Supplies: Ark Therapeutic Products

Ark Therapeutic Products

Ark Therapeutic

Pros
  • Chewables are an effective way to keep sensory seekers busy

  • ARK is a trusted brand for sensory and oral motor development

Cons
  • Limited product catalog

There’s a very good reason why fidget spinners and poppit toys are hugely popular among school-aged kids: As children develop, they remain sensory seekers. For many who have trouble focusing their energy, sitting still, or working on motor skill development, this kind of product provides a source of calm and focus.

While fidget toys work great for some kids, others find comfort in oral sensory stimulation. There’s a whole industry of therapeutic chewables for kids of all ages. These therapist-designed products are made to be worn as jewelry, used as pencil toppers, or just played with to provide stress relief to kids with sensory issues. 

Your child does not need to be diagnosed with a sensory issue for you to try out one of ARK’s products. Many kids who have a tendency to chew on their toys or clothes or who like to fidget can benefit from oral stimulation toys in and out of the classroom.

Shipping Cost: $5 flat shipping on all U.S. orders, free shipping on orders over $99 | Return Policy: No returns or exchanges (for sanitary and safety reasons) | Rewards/Perks: None

What Our Writers Say

"ARK was recommended to my family by my child’s preschool teacher, and both of my children have benefited greatly from chewables. I can say from first-hand experience that these things really do help if you have a child who needs to re-channel their energy in less destructive or distracting ways."Elizabeth Kocan, Contributing Writer

Best for Art Supplies: Michaels Art Supplies

Michael's Art Supplies

Michael's

Pros
  • Coupons for many products are regularly available online and on the app

  • Excellent selection of paper goods and office and art supplies

Cons
  • Some supplies may be more expensive than other options

You may not think of Michaels as a back-to-school shopping destination, but considering that many younger students are asked to arrive with crayons, markers, and paper products, there’s no reason not to shop at Michaels, a store that regularly offers coupons for 20 percent to 40 percent off purchases. 

MichaelsPro is also an amazing resource for teachers and anyone else who needs to buy items in bulk, with loads of art supplies, adhesives, paper, and more available at wholesale prices—and it’s free to join.

The online shop also offers a surprising selection of non-crafty items, which makes it well worth your time if you’re comparison shopping to save money on things like keyboards, calculators, children’s headphones, or flash drives. There are dozens of online-only items at Michaels that you might not have realized, all at competitive prices, and with its coupons and rewards program, you might end up saving some serious cash.

Shipping Cost: Free on orders over $49 | Return Policy: Michaels accepts returns on most items within 60 days of purchase, except for online-only costumes and accessory kits, which must be returned seven days prior to the holiday. Returned items must be unused and in their original packaging | Rewards/Perks: Michaels Rewards members get 3% back on every purchase (funds can be used on future purchases). Customers who spend $300+ in eligible purchases over 12 months receive 6% back.

Best for Tech: Amazon Tech

Amazon laptops

Amazon

Pros
  • Competitive prices

  • Vast selection

  • Third-party sellers may not be vetted

In addition to traditional school supplies, kids these days will also require some sort of tech, like laptops, tablets, or headphones. If they’re still doing any remote learning, need to do research, or are required to access tools like Google Classroom or an online syllabus, your child needs to be plugged in (metaphorically speaking, of course; chances are they’ll actually be wireless). 

Amazon is the place to buy our favorite tablet for kids, the Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids, but the site has all kinds of tech essentials, from flash drives and headphones to software, often at lower prices than you’ll find elsewhere.

Shipping Cost: Free with Prime membership or with most purchases over $25 for non-members | Return Policy: Amazon.com and most independent sellers on Amazon offer returns for items within 30 days of receipt of shipment. Certain items, including downloadable software, groceries, prepaid game cards, and computer hardware outside the 30-day window, cannot be returned | Rewards/Perks: Amazon Prime members are eligible for member-only deals and Prime Day sales. The Amazon Rewards Visa Signature credit card offers up to 5% back on purchases

Best for College Students: Bed Bath & Beyond College Shop

Bed Bath & Beyond College Shop

Bed Bath & Beyond

  • Discounts for college students

  • Good selection of dorm supplies

  • Limited selection of office supplies and tech products

From shower caddies to laundry essentials, storage solutions, desk supplies, and all sorts of organizers, the list of college essentials is long, but fortunately, most items can be purchased in one place: Bed Bad & Beyond. 

College students can take advantage of the store’s College Savings Pass, which offers 20 percent off all purchases—no coupon required—and three times the rewards points. The pass is only available to enrolled college students during the summer (this year, it’s good through September 30, 2022) and can be used online, via the app, and in stores. 

Bed Bath & Beyond also offers a “Pack and Hold” service, which allows students to make purchases anywhere (online, via the app, or at any store), and a Bed Bath & Beyond location near their college will hold the items until the student arrives on campus and can pick them up. 

The Bed Bath & Beyond website and app also curate dorm room collections for easy shopping. This tool allows students to shop from a preselected assortment of bestselling items, taking the guesswork and thinking out of a process that can be quite overwhelming.

Shipping Cost: Free on orders over $39 | Return Policy: Returns are accepted up to 90 days after purchase on most items, up to 30 days on smart home products and seasonal items, and up to 60 days on electric appliances, air mattresses, and baby/maternity items | Rewards/Perks: College Savings Pass is a free program for enrolled students. MyRewards (available to all shoppers) is a paid membership program that offers coupons and rewards points for every dollar spent

Final Verdict

There’s no denying that Amazon.com offers the most comprehensive selection at competitive prices. However, depending on your family’s priorities, there are many other retailers, like EarthHero, Etsy, and Mabel’s Labels, where you can find unique products and specialty items while also supporting small businesses.

How We Selected the Best Places to Buy School Supplies

Shopping for school supplies for multiple kids can be expensive and time-consuming, so we focused on convenience, value, and product selection when choosing our recommendations. We also factored in shipping costs, rewards programs, and other perks to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

In addition to large retailers, we considered small businesses that offer unique goods and added value, such as personalized items, environmentally friendly products, and supplies designed for children with specific needs. We also asked budgeting expert Andrea Woroch for tips on saving money and how to maximize savings during back-to-school shopping.

What to Look for in a School Supply Retailer

Price

A typical school supply list can include anywhere between 10 and 30 items depending on the grade level and school requirements. Pencils and composition books may not be a big expense, but the cost of school supplies can add up quickly if you need to purchase backpacks, water bottles, lunch boxes, clothes, shoes, and laptops. And if you have multiple children, back-to-school shopping can become a major yearly expense. 

If budgeting is a priority, keep in mind that large stores often offer the most competitive prices. “Large retailers have more sales volume and, as a result, can push more sales and offer bigger discounts than smaller, independently owned retailers. They may also carry more brands and a bigger selection,” Woroch tells Verywell Family. 

Back-to-school shopping can also be a wonderful opportunity to get your kids excited about the new school year and teach them about financial responsibility and saving money. Woroch recommends setting a budget and letting them participate in the decision-making process. Allow them to “shop sales, opt for store brands, and compare prices with name brands,” she says. “If your child really wants a nicer brand name item, start a savings plan and set them up with chores and an allowance, perhaps even offering to meet them halfway on the cost to teach them the value of the purchase. They will appreciate it much more if they have to work for it!”

Store Inventory

For convenience, many of us tend to hit up box stores or online retailers for most basics. Keep in mind, though, that with high demand and supply shortages, some items may be out of stock or on back order. Before adding your school supplies to your cart, make sure that they will be available when you need them. Consider also how long your items will take to ship, or your kids may find themselves without a backpack on the first day of school.

Uniqueness

If you’d like your kids’ school supplies to stand out or you cringe at the idea of supporting retail giants, smaller stores may have hand-made, personalized, or specialty items you may not find elsewhere—and you can rest well knowing you’re supporting a small business.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should you buy school supplies?

    In general, late summer is the best time to buy school supplies—if you can wait that long. Retailers will start pushing sales and advertising back-to-school supplies right after the Fourth of July, but new items are usually at their highest price point when they first come out. Prices tend to decrease when demand wanes and products have been sitting on the shelves for a while. 

    Of course, the risk of waiting until the last minute is that the specific items you want may sell out, but if you’re flexible, you can get the best deals once the shopping rush is over. And if you want to stock up for next year, school supplies usually go on clearance in September once school is in session. 

    However, “there are some early back-to-school shopping deals that are worthwhile,” according to Woroch. The budgeting expert recommends using the Honey app, a browser extension that looks at products on popular shopping sites and searches for relevant discounts and codes. The extension can also pull historical price data on Amazon products, which will show if the current sale price really is a good deal.

    And if you miss a sale, don’t despair. “Just because there are some good sales now and through the start of school doesn’t mean you need to stock up now or miss out. Retailers will regularly run different sales throughout the year. Buy what you need now or whatever your budget allows, and then wait for another sale. This way, you don’t overwhelm your budget or take on debt,” says Woroch.

  • How do you buy school supplies on a budget?

    First, take a look at what you have at home—last year’s scissors are just as sharp as the new pair at the store. Rulers, plastic folders, barely used notebooks, markers, pens, mechanical pencils, and other basics can be cleaned, and no one—not even your kids—will notice they’re not brand new. Backpacks and lunch boxes can also be cleaned and given new life with a few patches or swapping between your kids or with friends. “Don’t assume you have to buy everything on your child's school list, as there’s a good chance you have supplies left over from last year,” says Woroch. “Go through your home, kitchen drawers, playroom, kid’s room, etc., and pull everything out to see what you can use for this upcoming school year.” 

    You can also wait a week or two after school starts to score steep discounts on school supplies. “Remember, your child doesn’t need everything for the first day of school,” says Woroch. “You may find better deals on merchandise in September as retailers clear out inventory. So send them to school with what you could get now, using what you already have at home.”

    An easy way to save money on electronic devices is to look for refurbished tablets and laptops. Refurbished devices are products that were sold and returned shortly after. The manufacturer then thoroughly checks the device and remediates any problems before putting it on sale at a discounted price. Refurbished devices are covered under the same warranty as a new product. 

    Woroch also recommends using apps to save time and money. “Begin by comparing prices before you head to the store using a circular aggregator like Flipp to see who has the items on your list for the best price.” A circular aggregator is a website that gathers sales flyers and promotions for easy browsing, so you can see the sales at many different stores in one place. 

    And when shopping online, be sure to look for promo codes before buying anything. “Deal sites like CouponCabin.com organize coupon codes by store name or category, making it easy to find savings quickly. Or download the Sidekick browser extension, which automatically searches for coupons when shopping at a retailer online and applies the code with the biggest discount to your online cart,” recommends Woroch.

    Online shopping makes it easy to compare prices, so be sure to take the time to explore the different stores, discounts, and products. You can do this as a first step, even if you want to visit the brick-and-mortar stores to do your shopping with your kids. Some states also hold tax-free holidays in the weeks leading up to back to school, which can save you money on school supplies as well as clothing and some electronic devices.

Why Trust Verywell Family

Elizabeth Kocan is a writer, product tester, and parent of two boys, ages 9 and 4. A dedicated bargain shopper, she has spent years of her life scanning the shelves of box stores, local businesses, thrift shops, and online marketplaces to find the best deals on school supplies, clothes, and home decor.

1 Source
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