Student Life

8 Ways to Save on College Supplies

By Jason Shueh

Even under the flood of florescent lighting and the pull of store signs, seeing the full cost of college supplies can be tricky.

Pens and pencil packs start at $2 or $3, notebooks go for about $8, flashcards roll in for roughly $1 a pack, eraser sets $2, rulers $6, flash drives $5 and up. Then there are the binders, the backpacks, and those high priced textbooks to consider. 

With all of the piecemeal pricing, it’s easy to rack up a bill. To help with expenses, as your college student heads off this year, here are some savvy tips to reduce spending and add value to your purchases.

1. Gather Last Year’s Goods – Collecting last year’s college supplies is a lot like digging for coins inside a couch. Have your student make an inventory of what supplies they have from high school or the previous college year so you’re not doubling up on unnecessary purchases.

2. Head to the Thrift Store – Thrift stores and garage sales are a great place for purchases especially if your student is in need of small furniture, lighting, and appliances. 

3. Find a Deal at the Dollar Store – Often there are a few surprising deals on small items such as writing supplies. For items such as notebooks, erasers, rulers, and pencils there is no need for name brand products (especially if they’ll be discarded each semester or sooner).

4. Coupons – Don’t forget to hunt for promotional coupons. Today you can find them easily online through a brand website or through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Even a simple Google search can help your student find a significant discount. 

5. Shop Online – Buying online makes it easier for you to budget and takes away the emotional factors your student may have to buy a brand name product highlighted at a department store. Other advantages are easy price comparisons, no hassles standing in line, or making a hasty decision due to shopping fatigue. 

6. Buy in Bulk – Whether your student is in college for a first year or finishing up the last semester, supplies like pencils, notebooks, and binder paper are sure to be needed. For these common items it makes sense to stock up in bulk for cheaper pricing. This can be done online at sites like, Reliable Office Supplies, and Dollar Days or at a bulk chain store such as Costco or Sam’s Club. Also, if you have a friend or two with a college student, consider pooling your bulk purchases and dividing items as needed.

7. Buy before or after the rush – August and January are the two peak months for buying college supplies. Buy items immediately after or a few months before these peak purchasing months and you’re sure to shave off a few dollars. If your student can wait until September or February, the months after the rushes, huge savings are available from stores attempting to unload surplus inventories.

8. Buy books used or online – Textbooks are by far one of the most costly items to purchase for your student. They can cost hundreds of dollars each semester. However, buying used books, renting books, or selling them at the end of a class cuts costs dramatically. Before you purchase books from the university bookstore check the following sites for potential savings. 

Chegg – This site allows students to rent, buy used, or buy textbooks new. Renting a book can cut costs by as much as 60 percent in some cases, while buying used can cut costs in half — likely more if selling the book afterward. Visit them at

Barnes & Noble Text Books – Similar to Chegg, at Barnes & Noble students can rent, buy used, or purchase new textbooks. They can also download digital textbooks for computers and digital readers saving up to about 60 percent on costs and cutting down on backpack weight. An added bonus using Barnes & Noble is the extra support of a brick-and-mortar store for customer questions. Many campuses have also partnered with Barnes & Noble to create stores on site. For more information visit,

ebay and Craigslist – Using ebay and Craigslist may require a longer search, but since both sites offer books sold by consumers, prices may be cheaper for used books. It’s important to check a seller’s reputation rating on ebay and for Craigslist it’s always best to make sure a photo of the book is shown. For more information visit and

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter for additional tips and advice to help your college student succeed. You can also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our College Parents’ Facebook group.

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