This Genius Strategy Will Save You a Ton of Money on School Supplies

A mother holds her son's hand as she walks with him to school.
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Although it seems like summer just started, fall is just around the corner again — and that means it’s already time for another round of back-to-school shopping.

School supplies might not seem like they should add up to very much. You review the list without concern: some pens and pencils here, a pack of crayons and a new book or two there.

But a few days later, you find yourself walking out of an office supply store with a giant sack full of stuff and a receipt whose total is way, way higher than you’d anticipated — especially if you’ve got several kids to shop for.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way! If you learn how to deal stack, you can save a truly ridiculous amount on school supplies — or anything you buy.

What’s deal stacking, you ask?

We’re here to tell you. And we’ll even show you exactly how awesome it is by — gasp — doing math.

Plus, I wrote this post before 10 a.m. on a Friday, so it’s early-morning, almost-weekend math. That’s how much we love you, readers.

How to Save Money on School Supplies with Deal Stacking

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Deal stacking is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Finding lots of discounts and savings hacks to apply to the same purchase, and then stacking them on top of one another to squeeze the most out of every dollar you spend.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Look for Sales, Deals and Coupons

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Friends don’t let friends pay full price. Start by optimizing where you shop, and heading for the spot that consistently has the cheapest prices.

Then, wait for the store to lower those prices even further with a sale or a great coupon. Trust us, it’s totally worth it!

2. Give Yourself the Gift of Used Gift Cards

Ways to save money
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So now that you’ve found a killer sale and know where you’re headed to bag your goods, you have a little bit of homework to do.

Purchase a discounted gift card ahead of time. Raise is a great place to look, and you can also check eBay and Craigslist, or just Google around.

When a card’s original owner knows they won’t use it, they’ll be willing to take a smaller amount of cash than the card’s actually worth. After all, to them it’s free money for something that’s been sitting in the back of their wallet for a while.

For you, though, it means you might get $50 worth of purchasing power for just $40. It’s instant savings on everything you buy at that store, since every dollar you spend there costs less than a dollar of your own money.

Cool, huh?

3. Get Rewarded for the Money You Do Spend

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If you’re spending money and not getting something in return, you’re doing it wrong.

When you buy that discounted gift card — and every time you buy anything — you should ensure you get at least a little bit back by using a cash-back rewards credit card.

It might be as low as 1% of every dollar you spend, but it’s still technically a discount —  everything you purchase is 1% off!

If you’ve got other money goals in mind, like travel, find a credit card that helps you earn relevant rewards, like frequent flyer miles. If you play your cards right — literally — you could end up traveling the world for free.

An important note: For this to be an effective way to save money, you must pay off your card in full every month. The interest you’ll pay on carrying a balance will instantaneously render any earnings you get null and void.

It adds up way more quickly than you think. Here’s how much cash you’re wasting if you just pay the minimum every month.

4. Consider Shopping Through an Online Portal

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We get it: Some things, you just need to purchase in-person. Maybe for you and your child, notebooks are one of those things. I know I always liked to pick them up and feel their heft (and smell their pages) before I dropped them in my mom’s cart.

Hey, I’m a writer. School supplies were a big deal to me!

But if you shop through an online portal like Ebates, you’ll earn even more cash back for your purchase.

Add this to the used gift card tactic and your cash-back credit card rewards, and you’re looking at a huge discount that just keeps getting bigger!

How Much Can You Actually Save with Deal Stacking?

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To review, here’s how many deals you’ve stacked to save as much cash as possible on your back-to-school shopping:

  • You’re already buying sale items, so you’re getting a percentage off the full retail price.
  • By purchasing a used gift card, you’ve essentially given yourself free money by paying less than the amount it’s actually worth at that store.
  • By purchasing that gift card with a cash-back or other rewards credit card, you’ve ensured you’ll get something back for the money you spend.
  • If you shop through an online portal, you might get even more cash back or other rewards.

To illustrate how quickly those savings add up, here’s an example.

Say you need to buy $30 worth of school supplies.

You choose to make your purchases at Super-Awesome School Supplies Plus, because you know its prices are generally the best in the industry.

In anticipation of doing your back-to-school shopping, you purchase a $30 gift card on Raise for $25 using a cash-back credit card.

Before you go shopping, you find a coupon for 25% off your Super-Awesome School Supplies purchase. So in-store, you only spend $22.50 from your gift card.

Here’s what you save:

Discounted gift card: $5

Cash-back rewards: $0.25

Coupon: $7.50

Total savings: $12.75, or 42.5%

And that’s when you remember you still have $7.50 left on your gift card to spend on more school supplies later.

See how awesome deal stacking is?

Want to Save Even More on Back-to-School Shopping?

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Deal stacking is a great way to save on everything you purchase, but we have lots of other ideas to help you save even more this fall.

These six ways to save on school supplies might surprise you — you can do a couple of them without even leaving your home!

Plus, here’s one mom who got both of her kids set up for their first day for just $19.05. Impressive!

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Jamie Cattanach is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.