8 Tips for Hassle-Free School Supply Shopping

School supplies like notebooks, folders, glue sticks, pencils and pens stacked together on a table

Shopping for school supplies is easier when you know what you’re looking for. Let our lists below—broken down by school year—give you an edge.

  1. Heading to preschool? There’s likely little your kiddo needs for class, but you can set kids up for success by establishing a “homework” station even at this young age. Simple worksheets and craft projects may be all they’ll do at home, so make this easy and fun with a collection of sharpened pencils, crayons, paper, glue sticks and kid-friendly scissors. Organize supplies in a desk or closet lined with shelving so your student can easily grab what he or she needs. (And put it back when done!)
  2. Elementary school encompasses just-entering kindergartners all the way up to ready-to-graduate 5th graders, so there’s a wide range of needed supplies. Most schools provide lists of exactly what’s needed. Print this list as soon as it becomes available on a school’s website, sometimes even as early as mid-summer. Plan for sales and get started as soon as you’re able; waiting until last-minute may mean limited selections and possibly being out of something your child needs that first day. You can also save time by narrowing your shopping down to as few stores as possible. Also remember to buy lunch bags, snack containers and a thermos.
  3. Middle schoolers transition from elementary school’s single classroom to multiple periods in a day. Again, you’ll receive specific class supply lists from your district, but at this age kids may want more say in what helps them move between classes as efficiently as possible. Color-coding each subject’s notebooks and folders (purple for history, blue for math, etc.) can help students quickly grab what they need from their locker. Encourage them to keep a homework folder (3-ring binder with multiple pockets and dividers works well) so they can bring home just what’s needed for each subject.
  4. Locker accessories are popular with middle schoolers. Plastic shelving can help keep students organized and small white boards with dry-erase markers and magnets are good for written reminders.
  5. Cell phones will also become important in middle school and are good for keeping in touch with your student as needed.
  6. Once in high school, students may only need notebooks and folders for most classes. Let your kids tell you what they’ll need if your district doesn’t provide lists. Much of what worked in middle school (color coding, homework folders) works now, too. Lanyard wallets are a good way to keep identification cards, money and keys close at hand. As well, a new travel mug and a gift card to a favorite coffee shop can help start their year on a positive note!
  7. Shopping for a college student ups the school supply ante. You may be looking for big-ticket items like dorm fridges and other furniture. Bedding will likely be needed as may be basic kitchen equipment. Needs will depend on your student’s living arrangements.
  8. On the academic side, be sure to load the collegiate set up with plenty of paper, pencils, pens and the like. They may not know exactly what they need until classes start, so help them prepare by sending them off with a few gift cards for their new local discount and grocery stores.