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20 Back to School Supplies to Use From Last Year

20 Back to School Supplies Not to Buy

20 School Supplies Not to Buy

It’s back to school season, and here are 20 school supplies to use from last year.  Stories abound of parents going into debt to get all the school shopping done.  Most school supplies are things you don’t need to buy every year.  Some things you’ll need to buy every other year, and some only every 3 years!

Going back to school means kids need a lot of things, from school clothes to paper and pencils to new contacts and glasses. Contrary to popular belief, school shopping doesn’t have to kill your budget!

Many school items can be used for several years in a row. Make sure you evaluate your purchases carefully and buy quality items that will last more than one school year. It may not seem frugal to buy a more expensive backpack, but paying a higher price for a more durable, higher quality item can mean big savings in the long run.

If cleaning your child’s room turns up 500 crayons, 4 rulers, and 3 pairs of scissors, you might start to wonder why these items are on your list to purchase yet AGAIN before school starts! Recover and inventory all the supplies that came back home when school let out for summer vacation. Check your inventory against our list of school supplies not to buy before you go shopping. From the most obvious to the most overlooked, here they are:

20 Back to School Supplies to Use From Last Year

1. Rulers. There is a reason there are 4 of these in your child’s room. Rulers are readily given out at state fairs, parades and stores, but are pretty hard to wear out. Put one from last year into this year’s school supplies bag, and consider donating the extras to kids in need. Savings: $1

2. 3 Ring Binders. This is an item it’s okay to spend more on for durability. If binders are still in good shape with no tears, they can be used for several school years. Just change out the contents and re-label the spine, and you just saved $5. Savings: $5 each

3. Pencils and Pens. Chances are, most of the pencils that went to school last year came back home from school too. Round them up, sharpen to fresh points, and pack into a cute pencil box. Savings: $2

4. Erasers. For elementary school kids, erasers are a must-have. Big pink erasers require a lot of use to get to the point of replacement. Two large erasers will usually last quite a while. If they look dirty, rub them on the carpet to get them looking pink again. Savings: $2

5. Crayons. Most elementary supply lists call for students to bring in boxes of 24 crayons. Resist the temptation to buy huge new boxes of crayons every year.

Gather up the crayons in your child’s room and put them into a supply box. Discard the broken crayons only (or put those into a craft box for home use). Chances are, you’ll have hundreds of crayons to choose from without spending a dime. Savings: $2-$7

6. Markers: There may be broken sets of markers in your child’s room, and for good reason. Markers are great accessories and come with toys, fuzzy posters, color books, and more, so you’re bound to have a lot of different shapes, sizes and brands.

However, as long as there is at least one of each color, it won’t matter if you reuse them. Put into a zippered pencil bag or supply box and you have a full (if mismatched) set of markers. Savings: $3-$10

7. Backpacks: Pay a little extra to get one that will last. Cheap plastic backpacks might be tempting, but they’ll likely crack in the cold weather (for those who live in snowy climates) or fall apart with normal use throughout the school year.

Stick with solid colors and avoid cartoon and movie characters! There’s nothing quite as bad as having to buy a new backpack just because the picture on it isn’t cool anymore. A good quality backpack can last 3-4 school years. Savings: $10-$40

8. Scissors: It usually takes a hammer or an aluminum baseball bat to break metal scissors! Seriously, unless there is a strange accident to break them or cutting a lot of heavy material to dull their blades, scissors will last for several school years. Savings: $3

9. Colored Pencils: If they weren’t sharpened down to little nubs last year (and they probably weren’t), collect last year’s colored pencils and put them into a zippered pencil bag if the original box is missing. Savings: $3

10. Supply Box or Pencil Boxes: Plastic boxes can crack, but usually don’t get much wear and tear inside a desk or cubby. Use a pencil box 2-3 school years in a row. Savings: $1-$3

11. Bottles of School Glue: If last year’s bottle is not empty or dried out, it’s good enough to go back to school. Savings: $1 each

12. Glue Sticks: If the lids have tight fits and the glue hasn’t hardened, use the rest of last year’s glue sticks up first. Savings: $1-$3

13. Notebook or Filler Paper: Gather the partial stacks of empty sheets and fill them into three ring binders or clip together with binder clips. Savings: $.50-$2

14. Pencil Sharpeners: Little plastic pencil sharpeners rarely break. Get 3-4 school years of use out of sharpeners. Savings: $1

15. Notebook Dividers: Use sticky labels to re-label the tabs, and you can get multiple uses out of a pack of dividers. Savings: $1-$3

16. Pocket Folders: Buy plastic folders instead of paper/cardboard for longer life. Plastic folders rarely show wear and tear and can be used for years. Savings: $1-$3 each

17. Spiral bound notebooks: Most likely, last year’s notebooks weren’t completely used up. Tear out all the used pages, then use the remaining paper in the half-full notebooks up before buying brand new ones. Savings: $1-$4 each

18.  Mechanical pencils:  Did you know you can buy little packages of mechanical pencil lead refills?  If your pencils from last year are out of leads, just pop in some new ones! Savings: $4 a pack

19.  Highlighters:  Since highlighters take a long time to use up, the ones you bought for highlighting last year’s school notes are probably still good.  Savings: $2 a pack

20.  Lunch boxes: Most fabric lunch boxes (even plastic lined ones) can be washed in the washing machine if they’re dirty.  Unless your child’s lunch box has ripped or cracked, the same lunch box can be used for around 3 school years.  Savings: $10 – $20

Back to school shopping time doesn’t have to throw your frugal habits aside. By making sure to buy more durable school supplies and use up items already purchased in previous years, you can slash your back to school shopping budget dramatically!

We originally published 20 Back to School Supplies to Use From Last Year on Home Ever After on July 31, 2008. It’s also linked to Frugal Friday – go check it out!


Christmas Shopping List Planner Budget Spreadsheet : Printable and Download


Christmas Shopping List Planner and Budget Spreadsheet

Home Ever After’s latest free organizational spreadsheet, the printable Christmas Shopping List Planner and Budget, is ready for you just in time for the hardcore holiday gift shopping to start!  Get your free printable copy  by clicking the picture above or the link below. 

Using this printable Christmas shopping list planner and budget spreadsheet every year allows me to complete my shopping early and keep spending reasonable.  I have one Christmas shopping list planner and budget for extended family, one planner for immediate family, and one planner for friends, teachers, church staff, gift exchanges, etc.

Click here to print the printable  Christmas Shopping List Planner and Budget Spreadsheet.

How to use this Christmas Shopping List Planner and Budget

By keeping your Christmas shopping list altogether, you’ll make sure that no one is left out and that you can see you which gifts you already purchased and which ones you still need to buy.  Our spreadsheet allows you to plan your spending in advance so you can stick to your budgeted amount as you’re shopping  for the item.  This great holiday shopping tool has several helpful features:

  • Budget amounts for gifts by age group
  • Separate your list by family (list members of your own family together, your brother’s family, best friend’s family, etc.)
  • Dollar amount totals for each person, each family, and overall.
  • Separate columns for budgeted amount and actual amount, so you can see if you spent more or less.

The Christmas Shopping List Planner and Budget spreadsheet is free because I want you to get organized this Christmas and keep your gift shopping budget under control!

Print it out, write on it, and take it to the store with you.  That way you can plan your gifts ahead of time so they follow your budget, and make quick substitutions at the store if you find a different perfect gift! 

We originally published our printable Christmas Shopping List Planner and Budget spreadsheet in 2008, but it’s had a redesign and is fresh and new for 2011.  Check it out and see if it won’t look really snazzy in your household management binder!

Save Money on Heating Fuel Overnight

Peaceful bedroom

Save Money on Heating Fuel Overnight

While brainstorming ways to save money on heating fuel costs this winter, one of the ideas that my husband and I came up with was to lower our thermostat at night while the family is sleeping.

We’d have to make an initial investment by purchasing new bedding and warm sleepwear, but would recover the money invested in fuel savings.  But would we really save money on heating fuel?

The answer is yes, and you can too.  Let’s break down the rationale behind bulking up to cut down.

SAVE MORE: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Live a Frugal Life

Is Bedding Really an Investment?

You may be wondering, "Is it a good move to spend money on bedding and warm sleepwear in the hopes of saving on heating costs?"  You bet!

The money spent on these supplies is a one-time investment, meaning you pay one time and you have something permanently.  Money spent on heating is not a one-time expense, but a recurring expense.

SAVE MORE: 13 Ways to Save Energy and Cut Utility Bills

That means if you pay to have heat today, you have heat today only.  If you don’t pay tomorrow, you don’t have heat tomorrow.  With this in mind, we can see that making a one-time investment now in warmer supplies will allow you to lower your heating costs forever. What a winning equation!

Invest:  "To put (money) to use, by purchase or expenditure, in something offering potential profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.

Learning What Our Parents Figured Out About Heating Costs

This isn’t the first time people have been concerned about saving on heating costs, and we can learn a lot from looking back about 30 years in the history books.  During the oil crisis of the 1970s, families were using similar strategies to reduce their use of heating fuel.  President Carter spoke publicly about reducing thermostat temperatures.

Zolton Cohen at HowStuffWorks wrote a great article about this very subject called "How to Conserve Energy at Home".  In it he said,

"Because space heating constitutes the largest energy expenditure in many homes, even a little conservation of heating fuel goes a long way toward achieving a lower utility bill. Dialing down the thermostat one degree during the winter can result in about 1 to 3 percent less fuel use, and a similar reduction in your heating bill."

1% to 3% may not seem like much of a savings for sacrificing 1 degree of heat, but remember that the price of heating oil is currently $4 per gallon and is estimated to reach $7 per gallon mid-winter!  This outrageous heating fuel price is forcing hundreds of families where I live (in Alaska) to sell their homes and move to warmer locations.  It’s a matter of survival; they simply can’t afford heating fuel any longer.

SAVE MORE: Top Energy Wasters in Your Home

With that in mind, every degree people can sacrifice will return great savings in energy costs and will definitely be worth it!

Zohan continued,

"A furnace or boiler has to maintain a differential in temperature between the inside of the house and the outdoors in order for the house to feel comfortable. On cold days that difference can be as much as 50 to 60 degrees (say, 20 outside and 70 inside). Any time the differential can be reduced, even by a degree or two, the heating system comes on less often, less fuel is burned, and savings result. The downside of turning down a thermostat, of course, is that the house is cooler. But Carter had a solution for that — simply slip on a sweater. That makes sense, too. Instead of turning up the heat to increase the overall warmth in the huge volume of space inside the house, you can simply increase your personal insulation to help retain body heat.

"Though dialing down might seem a hardship at first, after a while your body will adjust to the "new normal" house temperature and wearing sweaters and socks inside will become a part of everyday life."

The Ice-Simmons Family Turns Down the Heat

To put this strategy into action,  my family would have to do certain things before implementation:

  • Buy additional comforters and blankets for everyone’s beds
  • Buy and switch to flannel sheets
  • Buy warmer socks and pajamas for all family members
  • Teach toddler son to sleep under a blanket (he squirms around the toddler bed all night)
  • Convince daughter to sleep under covers (she doesn’t like to make her bed in the morning, so she tries to sleep on top of the covers!)
  • Convince family to sleep wearing socks

After completing the six steps listed above, we would be able to gradually turn down the thermostat at night to save on heating fuel.  So yesterday I went to Walmart, armed with a budget of $200 and determined to come home with warm blankets for every bed.

SAVE MORE: Top 13 Free Things to Stop Paying For Now!

Bedding Supplies Needed to Save on Heating Fuel   Warm blankets

The blankets and comforters were very reasonably priced, allowing me to come in under budget.  A down alternative blanket was the choice for mom and dad’s bed; cost: $33.

For my daughter’s blankets, I chose a comforter in queen size for her twin bed.  A queen comforter can be folded in half to exactly fit the width of a twin-size bed.  Effectively, for the $29 the comforter cost, she got two layers of blanket.

The same strategy was followed for our toddler son, with a $29 twin size Batman comforter wrapped around and underneath his toddler bed mattress.  Flannel sheets were also reasonably priced at approximately $20 per set.

I didn’t purchase any pajamas or socks that day, since I’m planning to catch the next sleepwear sale for flannel PJs for the family.  It helps to keep an eye out at the thrift store for kids’ warm sleepwear as well.

I’ll be watching for girls’ flannel pajamas and footed sleepers for toddlers at our local Value Village, hoping to add a few extra sets of pajamas to the kids’ jammies drawers.  As fast as kids grow, you should never be afraid to shop second-hand for children’s clothing.

SAVE MORE: How to Save 90% on Kids Clothes

All in all, we spent approximately $140 dollars on winter bedding for a family of four.  Not too shabby.  I anticipate spending another $30-$40 on heavyweight pajamas and socks, making our total expenditure $200.  We slept in our newly-insulated beds last night, and the whole family gave rave reviews!

Our thermometer went down 3 degrees last night, and everyone was warmer in their beds than on a normal night.  We were warmer even though the house was colder!

The "investment" made in warm blankets and sleepwear for your family is an expense you can feel good about.  Know that you will see those dollars come back to you almost immediately in the heating savings you’ll realize.

Warm blankets can be a good investment when you reduce your thermostat to save money on heating fuel overnight!

Reader, Suzi “PlainSister” wrote in:

“We heat and cook with wood, no backup, and do not heat our bedrooms at all. We have found that the fleece blankets with the longer nap used as sheets increase the warmth considerably, much better than flannel.

We also use a down/feather blanket over it and sleep warm and comfy. The down alternative blanket works well when the temps are not so cold at night.

We also live in the mountains between 6 and 7 thousand feet, so the nights are pretty chilly year round and the fleece for sheets works for every season. It is so much cheaper to live as we do rather than have to buy propane.

We live in an area that can get snowed in for months and there would be no way for the propane trucks to get in to fill tanks.”

Photos courtesy of stock.xchng.

Fast Budget Dinner: Cod, Rice and Veggies

As part of our new frugal plan, I’ve committed to not eating at restaurants or bringing home fast food, even on nights when there isn’t really time to cook. I’ve put together some fast budget meals using semi-convenient foods from the grocery store. Last night I made potato crusted cod and veggies, which was fast and cheap.

1. Potato crusted cod (x 4 fillets) $8.00 sale priced: This cod comes ready to cook in the seafood department at Fred Meyer.

2. Green Giant broccoli and potatoes $3.45: Bagged with cheese sauce, you can find these quick veggies in the frozen aisle to cook in the microwave.

3. 1 stalk of fresh broccoli $1.50: This fresh broccoli got chopped up and mixed in with the Green Giant veggies to stretch it even further.

4. Rice (2 cups before cooked) $.25: Our rice costs hardly anything since we buy it in bulk bags at Sam’s Club. Rice is a frugal ingredient that can be added to many meals to stretch it without adding a lot of cost.

Total dinner for 4 = $13.20 or $3.30 per person.

This is by far more expensive than our meals normally are, but 1) fast and convenient is important right now, and 2) we don’t usually eat seafood. Our nightly total for a dinner is usually around $5-$8 for the whole family. Remember also that we live in Alaska where groceries, even bought on sale and combined with coupons, are significantly higher than elsewhere in the United States.

This fast budget meal was quick to cook also: I put the rice in the rice cooker, fish in the oven, and veggies in the microwave, and turned them on. I was able to set the table and feed the baby while dinner cooked itself!

Challenge yourself to put together some fast but more-frugal-than-fast-food dinner meals for nights when you don’t have time to cook. You’ll be glad you did!

(Get more Works for me Wednesday here.)

Frugal Plan: New House Family Budget Cutbacks

We’re moving into a bigger house  very soon to accommodate our ever-growing family.  After putting the new numbers into our household budget,  it was clear that we’d have to cut down to the frugal bare-bones tactics we used for all the years when we were paying off our debt.  Of course, I made a frugal plan in writing.

I thought you might be curious to see just how much a family can save by making a few small deliberate changes and trimming a few dollars off of each budget item per month.  Below is the actual Frugal Plan for New House I made two days ago for my husband and I to work from. 

In our case, the money we save will go into repairing the damage done to the house by the previous owners.  All estimates in, our budget for the interior of the house (nothing fancy- just frugal replacing of floors, carpets, fixtures, etc.) is $8,500!  We’re going to need to save as much as possible to make those repairs happen without incurring any debt.

Frugal Plan for New House

Fuel & wood. Budgeted = $175. Target = $150. Savings = $25/mo, $300/yr.

  • Buy warmer blankets for beds.
  • Buy warmer pajamas for kids.
  • Burn all paper/cardboard trash in wood stove.

Electric. Budgeted = $120. Target = $100. Savings = $20/mo, $240/yr.

  • Switch all bulbs to CFLs.
  • Energy hog pushups for kids. (We make our kids do 5 pushups when they leave the lights on – it works!)
  • Don’t plug in either car- keep them both in the garage.
  • Economize and cut down the number of exterior Halloween & Christmas lights this year.

Water & sewer. Budgeted = $120. Target = $100. Savings = $20/mo, $240/yr.

  • 2 baths/wk for kids. 15 minute showers max.
  • No clean clothes can be thrown in laundry baskets. Kids wear jeans, pants, bras, and jammies more than once before washing.
  • Combine laundry baskets for full loads.
  • Install motion sensor faucet in kids’ bathroom to save water.
  • Use disposable plates, bowls, & cups from Sam’s Club. (Large family=lots of dirty dishes = 2-3 loads in dishwasher per day.  That’s too much.)

Dipes/wipes/formula. Budgeted = $140. Target = $100. Savings = $40/mo, $480/yr.

  • Use cloth diapers as much as possible. Use disposable diapers only for when away from home and at church.
  • Buy pull-ups in bulk at Sam’s Club.
  • Buy only Parent’s Choice diapers and wipes.

Groceries/household. Budgeted = $600. Target = $500. Savings = $100/mo, $1200/yr.

  • Cut out all restaurant eating, except next item.
  • Go to Denny’s for dinner on kids eat free night for treat night.
  • Keep fully stocked snack/lunch cooler in car at all times to avoid fast food expenses.
  • No juice boxes for school – fill up reusable water bottles with juice from home.
  • Combine coupons with sale items to stock up pantry.
  • Menu plan around weekly sales.
  • Only 1 trip to the store per week – no exceptions.

Fuel – vehicles. Budgeted = $200. Target = $150. Savings = $50/mo, $600/yr.

  • Use smaller car whenever possible (not minivan).
  • Park both cars in the garage in winter.
  • Husband checks post office on the way home only twice a week – Monday and Friday.
  • Combine errands into 1 circuit per week.
  • 1 grocery shopping trip per week.

Total budgeted= $1355.  New target = $1100.

Total savings possible/month= $255.

Total savings possible/year= $3060.

We can save over $3,000 a year!  That’s a spectacular savings from just these few budget items.  I think we can do better than this, and we’ll have to wait for the spending to come in for month 1 before we can evaluate how well the plan is working.  Whatever your frugal goals are (family vacation, home remodel, new car), have you made your frugal plan yet to make them a reality?

Get more Frugal Friday at Life as Mom.