Back-to-School: Things You Don’t Need to Buy

That exciting, yet dreadful time of the year has come again, and looms ever closer: Back to School.

For students and parents alike, there are a lot of mixed and confusing feelings about returning to school for the new year. For students, especially children, there is the excitement of going back to seeing friends regularly, to meeting new teachers and new friends, perhaps to doing something besides sitting at home. But there is also the sadness and longing as the lazy and free summers disappear, and the prospect of hardwork, grades, and homework comes nearer and nearer. Parents encounter equally mixed, yet arguably stronger feelings. Their kids are happy to return to school and meet their teachers, and parents feel relieved to have a little more time to themselves during the week days.

But if there is one thing parents look forward to at the end of summer, it’s definitely not Back to School Shopping. Who doesn’t like escorting an ever-filling cart of expenses down aisle after aisle of a chaotic grocery store, while dodging nags, arguments, and bickers left and right? According to the National Retail Federation, families with children in elementary school through college spent roughly 27.5 billion dollars on back to school shopping in 2018.That’s an average of $684.79 per family. That number is expected to increase to $696.70 per family, says the NRF.

But there’s good news. A good chunk of the back-to-school shopping lists can be crossed off. Here are a few things you don’t need to buy to help save you money


I know what you’re thinking. Pencils are, like, the first things most people might think of at back to school time. But chances are, you don’t need to buy packs of pencils. More than likely, there are perfectly usable pencils around the house. If there aren’t, rather than buying a box for each child, consider buying a supply for the house and allowing two or three at a time. If you give your child 24 pencils, chances are, they won’t be as careful with them, knowing they have plenty more, and they will lose them more easily. Keep in mind that for younger children, pencils are usually already available in their classrooms. Also, decorative pencils may be nice, but they aren’t necessary, and they are comparatively pricier than the simpler ones.

Next: Rub these off the list too


The same principle for pencils applies to erasers. A student would definitely benefit from having one singular gummy eraser, and it may encourage them to keep their work neat without borrowing from others. Admittedly, the little erasers at the tops of wooden pencils are a hit-or-miss in regards to quality. If you want to buy a value pack of simple erasers, ration them out to your students one at a time and don’t immediately resupply them if they are lost. This will encourage them to keep track and be responsible of their belongings, and will save money in the long run.

Next: You don’t need these. I’m sticking to it.


Will your student need glue for the occasional project poster or cut-and-paste assignment? Yeah, probably outside of class. Will they need to have a glue stick handy at all times and a readily available supply of backups? Not likely. On the occasion an assignment calls for glue, every classroom always has a supply of glue bottles and sticks to use in class. At home, you could keep one or two in a desk or near the homework table to be returned when your student is finished. Otherwise, cross these off your list and save the money for other supplies or necessities.

Next: Blot these off your shopping list.

White Out

White out, or corrective fluid, has been a sensation since it came onto the shelves. It was an amazing way to “erase” otherwise permanent pen work. Although white out is a nice concept, though, it’s messy and pretty expensive. Students tend to make a mess and use too much. But most importantly, many teachers prefer to see the mistakes students make, which help them to understand the students’ thinking processes. A single pen strikethrough is more desirable, even on final draft, than blots of white out.

Next: I don’t remember ever needing to bring one of these from home.


One high school teacher told Forbes, in fifteen years of teaching, he never had an assignment which required a clipboard. Yet I often see parents buying these for their students, or even more surprisingly, giving them those expensive ones with the storage compartments. I’m telling you now, they will never find usefulness and will only add to your student’s backpack load. Classrooms have these available if they are ever needed, and if you need one at home, keep one there, or even make one.

Next: You can count on not needing these.


Many teachers discourage the use of calculators almost all the way into high school, as they prefer to see the student show their work and calculations by hand. In the cases where calculators are needed, classrooms already have them on hand for students to use. In the few classes, such as Physics, upper level Algebra, or Calculus, graphing calculators are also supplied during class work or tests. For all other situations, a four function calculator or even a smart phone or tablet has all the function a student will need, so you can cross these off your shopping list.

Next: Dry-erase this from the list, too.


Dry erase whiteboards may seem like a nice and fun way to do math or other practice at home, but in actuality, they are expensive and tend to cause a messy distraction. Most students that have them spend class or homework time drawing on them, or losing the markers or caps. Dry erase boards are already starting to become available in most elementary classrooms that make use of them. If you want your child to experience this without the extra expenditure, consider a budget option. A piece of white paper in a binder protector sheet or a laminated piece of printer paper works just fine instead, and can even be hole-punched and put in a binder.

Next: Hm, lemme check. Yup. I will be needing these zero days this year.


It’s definitely a good idea to teach your children to be organized and write down their assignments. But most schools I’ve taught at already have their own planners which the student fills out as part of the daily agenda. High school students and even some middle school students are tending towards using phone or computer calendars to track assignments rather than on physical planners. Cross ’em off!

Next: Almost never needed

Note Cards

Note cards are also very situational. They used to be ubiquitous study tools when it came to preparing for tests or vocabulary assessments, but most times, students are using digital flashcards such as Quizlet or Anki. I suggest buying a cheap value pack for a dollar or so and putting them away until they are requested by the teacher.

Next: Nothin’ Beatz saving money on these.


Every kid wants headphones or earbuds these days, and most of the time, it’s not for school, but for music or their phone. They may even insist on bluetooth headsets or namebrand headphones, which can cost over $100. But they don’t need them, and even if you buy them cheap, they will likely break or get lost within a week or two. Teachers and libraries almost always have them available to be loaned out. If they really want a special set, have them earn them with an allowance or good performance.

Next: Thinking long term

Disposable Lunch Supplies

Listen, all those zipper plastic bags, spoons, and forks are super wasteful and harmful for the environment. Plus, you miss out on teaching your children responsibility. A 280 count pack of sandwich bags and a supply of plastic cutlery for the year would cost around $15-20 dollars per child. Instead, invest in reusable supplies and teach your child to bring them home each day. You’ll save money and the environment.

Next: Holes in teeth and in pockets.

Candy and Toys

Imagine your child hyped up on sugar and sweets and/or distracted by their favorite toy. Now imagine 15 to 25 of them in a classroom, where you attempt to explain long division or the Mayflower. Need I say more? Teachers hate it when students bring candy. Leave the candies and toys for a special reward, and not as a shopping staple. I know this is particularly hard for parents who have to take their children back to school shopping with them. You can do it!

Next: Let’s clean our hands of these expenses

Hand Sanitizer

Many schools have begun petitioning to ban students from bringing hand sanitizer to school. Their ingredients are controversial and some studies have even shown schoolchildren who use hand sanitizer are still getting sick. Controversy aside, they are distracting and students sometimes argue or distract each other with them in class. Many school facilities have their own supply readily available, so these aren’t necessary.

Next: Nice in theory, but still useless and unneeded.

Mechanical Pencils

Students love mechanical pencils because they are more interactive and don’t have to be sharpened. But here’s the thing. Students tend to lose these just as often as normal pencils, which are much cheaper. The lead gets lost or runs out, the clicker gets jammed, the eraser gets rubbed out. When it comes down to it, they are just as much of a hassle as ordinary pencils, with a higher price tag.

Next: Even more unneeded in this age

Multi-Subject Notebooks

I remember how neat those things were, but they really aren’t ideal in reality. Most classes are shifting towards digital work, and those that aren’t usually prefer a separate notebook for their class. Often, these end up becoming a very expensive pack of scratch paper. Save money and buy those wire-bound, single subject notebooks instead. Efficiency in note-taking is also important and by taking notes in the correct ways, we can help reduce wastage. And don’t forget to encourage students (especially younger ones) to use up all the blank spaces for scratch paper when they can.

Next: A tradition which needs to stop

A New Closet

Getting into hot territory here. I get it. It’s a new school year. You can’t be wearing the same clothes as last year. But this is far too widespread and it’s an issue. When you switch the old wardrobe out for a new one at the beginning of the year, not only are the older clothes thrown away or left unused, but your children will learn to throw away things which still have use. A couple new shirts or pants are nice, especially for growing children who are rapidly changing sizes.

If you have many children, make sure to pass lightly used clothes down to the next child to make the most use of the garments, and if they clothes are worn out, keep some as play or work clothes, or give them to a local shelter or charity organization. The National Retail Federation projected almost one-third of Back to School spending is on clothing and shoes, so there is a lot of room for savings!

Next: Kick overspending

New Shoes

Unless your children have outgrown or obviously wore out their shoes, you don’t need to buy new ones. I met some families who have to buy new shoes sometimes three or four times a year. Teach your children to be responsible and careful with the shoes they have, then buy a new pair it’s necessary, not simply because they are on sale and it’s the new year. On the same note, there is no need to buy expensive gym or specialty shoes for students unless they are specifically requested by teachers. Most of the time, if a student needs them, they are available for use or purchase through the school.

Next, and finally: Really challenging tradition


Yes, they are on sale. Yeah, they have cool rollers and zippers. Sure, the one from last year maybe has a few scuffs. Once again, this is about saving money. If a parent would voluntarily like to purchase a new backpack every year and stick to traditions, they are free. But a good backpack should have a lifespan of up to two years or more if treated right. This is especially true, considering backpack loads are getting lighter and lighter. Students won’t need to bring as many textbooks and notebooks as laptops begin to take over. Teach your child responsibility and reward this with whatever goodies you see fit. And, please, don’t bring those big roller backpacks. They often get banged up, ripped, and dilapidated and they sometimes cost twice or thrice the price of a regular backpack.


I know that Back to School is exciting, and parents want to make sure their children have everything they need to succeed. But overspending on back to school supplies is not only costly. It teaches bad values in the end. All of the items I mentioned are not bad to buy for your children. But tradition and culture have turned some of them into staples where they really should be given when earned. In other cases, the changing times and the dissemination of the internet has changed classrooms and many of the things we used to need are being done away with. Back to School night can be exciting and fun, but it doesn’t have to be expensive!

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