Here’s the Deal: How to Save on School Supplies

Whether you’ve got little kids, big ones, or just a home office, it’s time to save on supplies.

Back-to-School Supplies
On schoolpack.com, parents can purchase individual items or prepackaged kits for all grades.

Now that my son is getting ready for first grade, I asked a friend where she shops for school supplies. For price and convenience, she had a quick answer: schoolpak.com. Parents can purchase individual items or prepackaged kits for all grades. The Generic Elementary School-Pak for first through fifth graders, for example, is $23.28. (Teachers can also e-mail their grade’s or school’s entire list for a quote on custom­ized kits. Shipping is free for 75 or more kits.)

  • Shop where teachers shop
    Teachers rave about educationalwarehouse.com for its learning tools and games—everything from puzzles and puppets to software and stickers. Classroomdirect.com has great prices on over 10,000 products and a clearance corner offering even deeper discounts.
  • Pick your lunch box
    The second-most-difficult back-to-school decision, right after what to wear on the first day, is what kind of lunch box to buy. Jonas Brothers or Hannah Montana? Ariel or Elmo? Your kids can browse at their (and your) leisure at platesplus4kids.com and lunchboxes.com.
  • Trade in sports gear
    My garage is a tangle of bikes and balls, cleats and clubs, so I was excited to find playitagainsports.com, a company that resells quality, name-brand sporting equipment. You’ll have to visit one of its 320 stores, located in 46 states and the District of Columbia. If you want to trade in your gear for cash or store credit, a sales associate will consider its condition, brand, and the store’s current inventory. Even if you have no trade-ins, you’ll save 50 percent buying used instead of new.

3 Sites for Savings

  • feedthepig.org Calculate the savings if your kids (and you) stopped buying lunch out every day and brown-bagged it.
  • goodshop.com Support your favorite charity or school by shopping at more than 1,000 participating retailers. Up to 30 percent of every purchase is donated. And you’ll find hundreds of deals and coupons.
  • taxadmin.org Click on 2009 State Sales Tax Holidays to see if your state has scheduled a tax-free shopping day. Check what’s included before heading to the store.

Next: How to Buy the Most Efficient PrinterPrinter Ink Rip-Off
Don’t you hate it when you’re trying to print something important and that low-ink warning light flashes? The truth is, you may not need replacement cartridges as often as you think.

Some cartridges signal they’re empty when they’re still half full. If your printer keeps on working, ignore the warning or cover the sensor with electrical tape. If your printouts get streaky or banded, try shaking the cartridge.

While printers have gotten cheaper, the price of many name-brand ink cartridges has gotten ridiculous. And what you pay for is not always what you get.

Most of us spend $10 to $20 for a single cartridge of black ink that will print 200 to 600 pages. Depending on your printer—some are more efficient than others—printing in black costs between 2 cents and 13 cents a page.

But manufacturers don’t reveal the average printing cost per page for their products, so consumers don’t know what they’re getting, says Steve Pociask, president of the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research (ACI), who is campaigning for full disclosure.

If your printer still has some life in it, try low-cost replacement cartridges. You may sacrifice a bit of quality with these generics, but if you’re printing basic text documents, you won’t notice a big difference. Just check the return policy before ordering. The independent review site PrinterInk gives inksmile.com, 123inkjets.com, and 4inkjets.com high marks. Cartridges on these sites sell for as low as $6. For a really easy way to save, go to ecofont.eu and download a free, eco-friendly font that uses 20 percent less ink.

Janice Lieberman is the consumer correspondent on NBC’s Today show.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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