Back to School for a Penny

Remember as a kid seeing stores put up those "Back to School Sale" signs? I truly hated those happy little announcements. This year kids are seeing those signs earlier than ever thanks to Staples and Office Depot. The two office supply stores officially launched the back to school season in the first week of July with sales on things like notebooks and pencils. For Staples, it was the first time declaring such an event. The date set by Staples was based on historic trends, feedback from parents and schools and the fact that some schools in the South and West start the new school year in July. Plus there has to be a little influence between the two office supply giants since they kicked off their back to school sales within a few days of each other.

But what's so amazing about these sales is that they're pawning off stuff for a mere penny. Both stores are advertising things like a 12-pack of pencil erasers, folders, protractors and No. 2 pencils for 1 cent each. Gee, you could probably go out into the parking lot and find a few pennies on the ground to take advantage of these deals.

Back to school sales are big business for retailers. Last year, families were expected to spend more than $560 on back to school gear for their school-age children, totaling $18.4 billion, according to National Retail Federation. That $560 figure was up about 7 percent from the previous year. The organization won't release its figures for this year until later this month. But I imagine the slumping economy will most likely affect spending.

Nearly every week Staples and Office Depot will feature a new handful of items to sell for 1 cent each between now and mid September. The quantities are limited. So you can only buy five 1-cent rulers from Office Depot or 10 two-pocket folders from Staples. And the sales will last for a few days at a time. You'll be able to find out about these deals plus other good deals in this blog if you happen to miss the weekly circulars.

Here are the few cent deals for this week:

Office Depot: For a penny you can get a 12-pack of pencil erasers, a protractor, a two-pocket folder and a ruler until July 19. For 59 cents you can get 100 color-coded 3 by 5 index cards and for 79 cents, a two-hole manual pencil sharpener.

Staples: The store has no 1 cent deals this week but for 15 cents you can get 150 pieces of filler paper and for 25 cents you can get scissors or a portfolio folder. They also have 50-cent glue sticks and composition books.

So where do you get your kids' school supplies? Know of any other stores that sell stuff for a penny or close to it? Post a comment below.

Fiscal Fast Update: So what's better than spending 1 cent? Spending nothing, which is what I attempted last week during my first ever fiscal fast. I'll let you know exactly how my family fared in Thursday's blog. If you also attempted the fiscal fast, please post a comment Thursday and tell us what what your week was like.

By Tania Anderson |  July 15, 2008; 1:00 AM ET General Interest , Kid Stuff
Previous: Is Online Grocery Shopping Worth the Fee? | Next: My So-Called Fiscal Fast


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Teachers take note of this penny reminder. 1/3 of students come prepared. The rest borrow from the teacher or from each other. The pencil erasers are the smartest buy.

Posted by: Cordy Reagan | July 15, 2008 11:16 AM

My son's Arlington Coutny elementary school "strongly encouraged" us to spend $50+ last spring on school supplies for the fall through a company that pre-packages all the supplies and all the "brands that teachers prefer..." Marketed as easier and money-saving...easier, yes, money-saving, I sincerely doubt.

Posted by: telecommuting mom | July 15, 2008 2:15 PM

In addition, I know that Staples will allow teachers to purchase more than the posted limit, as long as they have their school IDs. For example, last week the advertised special of one-cent pencils had a limit of 2 per customer. I was able to purchase 25 packs since I had my ID card.

Posted by: Evynn Blaher | July 15, 2008 2:18 PM

The sales offered by Staples, Target and others are GREAT deals for teachers, who are the ones who pick up the slack for students who do not have the needed supplies. It is another way teachers pick up the slack from their personal funds to make up for the lack of funding by society.

But, as a parent, I have gone out and purchased all the supplies needed from the lists put out by the schools and then on the first day of school have found I needed to go out and purchase a whole different list because the specific teacher to which my son was assigned had different needs than those on the list. You can always get general supplies of pens, pencils and paper, but don't get more than that or you will be frustrated.

Posted by: mhtalbut | July 15, 2008 2:43 PM

Walmart has back to school specials as well. This week 70 sheet spiral notebooks are 5 cents each, Crayola crayons 24 pack is 22 cents.

Posted by: pskelly2 | July 15, 2008 2:47 PM

I know this won't work with Staples or Office Depot but last year I gave away the 20 cent Crayola crayons from Walmart for Halloween. They didn't have a limit on the amount purchased, I figured it would be more useful for the parents than candy and the kids were actually really excited about it.

Posted by: cb650 | July 15, 2008 4:23 PM

What a great idea!

Posted by: To cb650 | July 15, 2008 4:43 PM

cb650, love the idea! I don't get trick-or-treaters currently because I live in a small apartment building, I'm certainly going to have to remember that one for the future. (My fave house as a kid was the one that gave out mini bags of pretzels and chips!)

Posted by: tia | July 15, 2008 5:39 PM

Hello. I've tried to email you at, but it keeps bouncing back as "no such user." Is anyone else having this trouble?

Posted by: PW | July 15, 2008 6:13 PM

try, I think that's the domain the email server recognizes.

Posted by: chuck | July 15, 2008 6:40 PM

Hey, tia and cb650, my kids trick-or-treat and they hate the houses that hand out pretzels or pencils. To them, Halloween means candy. Apples don't excite them, either, all you well-meaning health nuts.

Target always sells a 10-pack of 70-page spiral notebooks for a dollar once school supplies are on sale. That's 10 cents each. Not quite as good as WalMart's 5-cent notebooks, but the sale price is generally good as long as the supply lasts rather than just for a week.

Posted by: suburbancorrespondent | July 15, 2008 9:21 PM

Parents, how do you feel about the huge supply lists teachers send out? I'm sending my kid to school for the first time and I'm shocked to find out we are buying basic supplies like soap and paper towels which is going into a "pool" for all the kids to use.

Basically, I'm not on board with all this. I agree to supply MY child with stuff, so why am I buying loads of stuff to share with the other kids? Is this common?

I will definitely start buying her supplies early. Who knew you needed so much stuff? When I was in kindergarten, we had paper, paste, crayons and those huge red pencils and that' was about it as I recall.

Posted by: Kay | July 15, 2008 9:26 PM

Kay, I do not mind buying soap, paper towels, etc. for my child's classroom because I want my daughter and her classmates to practice good hygiene. It is a small price to pay, in my opinion, if it contributes to a well-stocked classroom for my child to learn and play in. You're usually only asked to buy these items in the beginning of the year and teachers should not be expected to foot the bill.

Posted by: gooddeal | July 16, 2008 12:48 AM

I went to staples with my teacher ID and they did not let me buy more than the limit. I wasn't to happy :(

Posted by: Norma | July 16, 2008 9:48 AM

I guess I was stunned because paper and pencils weren't actually on the supply list.

Posted by: Kay | July 16, 2008 2:02 PM

So I went to Staples yesterday to pick up some composition books, looseleaf, and scissors. There were no sale signs, and when I found the items they all listed well above the price listed. I asked an employee about it, and she said that there were no such sales this week. Apparently there will be a nickel sale starting on Sunday (on protractors, I think), but that's all she knows about. Composition books won't be on sale "until much later in the summer," she thought.

Do you know what might have happened? I was very irritated to have made a special trip for nothing. The Staples I visited was in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Posted by: Q | July 16, 2008 3:04 PM

suburbancorrespondent, in my defense, I handed out 24 packs of crayola crayons, not pencils. And as the parent of a child with severe peanut allergies, I'm always looking for things that all the kids can enjoy, including my son. Most the kids were really excited about the crayons and there were many conversations in front of our house where kids were sending other kids to the door because they were so excited about them. We were the "go-to" house of the neighborhood. My mom and sister also handed them out and had the same experience.

Posted by: cb650 | July 16, 2008 5:52 PM

I also experienced this at Staples yesterday. The filler packs of paper were $.79. The marble composition books were not on sale at the price this article quoted. I did get some glue sticks that were reasonably priced. What's up? At Office Depot, the sales prices were advertised. However, they were sold out of a number of the items, including the eraser caps (the best deal). I took the last ruler and almost the last protractor. They advertise these "loss leaders" then don't have nearly the stock to support the sale. A trick as old as retail, I guess, but it doesn't make me any more inclined to appreciate it.

Posted by: S | July 17, 2008 9:07 AM

The sale on filler paper starts on Sunday at staples. I am a teacher and at the beginning of the year, I ask for parents to send in a pump bottle of soap, pump bottle of hand sanitizer, and a box of tissues. I can't afford to supply all of this throughout the year and germs multiply and travel like wildfire as you know in classrooms, so consider it a small price to pay for my trying to keep your child healthy while teaching them during the cold and flu season. Please send them in to your teachers, they are greatly appreciated! Trust me!

Posted by: Lisa | July 20, 2008 2:28 AM

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