How to Manage Your Back To School List

essential back-to-school itemsIf you were to buy all of the so-called essential back-to-school items featured in advertisements, it’s safe to assume that you’d be either broke and/or staggering under the weight of it all. It’s common sense that you can’t possibly buy it all so you’re going to need to think carefully about what you’ll actually need and what you can afford to do without. A lot of what you’ll see covered in this post might seem very obvious, but you’d be amazed what weird and wonderful things some students bring with them while forgetting the essentials (especially at college!). One quick note before I start: don’t forget to check out of there is a tax free holiday in your city this month because these are designed to help you save a ton of money for your back to school shopping.

Essential Back to School Items for High School and College

Folders/binders. No-frills folders and binders will usually do the job fine. To begin high school, I had multiple folders (one for each subject) but later switched to one or two large folders to keep everything together in case I accidentally left a subject folder behind. How you choose to organize your notes is down to personal preference but, either way, inexpensive folders never let me down.

Writing equipment. You won’t get very far without pens but they’re not created equally. In my first year of high school, I bought several packs of cheap pens of the dollar store variety and quickly came to regret the decision. Most students do a lot of writing over the course of the average school year and these pens didn’t last five minutes before they ran out or stopped working. Buying higher quality pens might seem like a waste of money at first but they’re more economical in the long term, because they tend to last longer before they need replacing.

Highlighters. Most students use plenty of these.

Index cards/Post-It Notes. These are always useful for making quick notes and staying organized.

Notebooks. During my high school years, I used to tear individual sheets of paper out of refill pads and invariably would end up misplacing half of the sheets. If you’re prone to doing the same, notebooks are probably a better option so that you can keep all of your notes together more easily. You can dedicate one notebook per subject or use a multi-subject notebook if you want to have everything in one place (at the sacrifice of more weight).

Planners. Keeping track of multiple assignment deadlines can become tricky if you don’t have a place to jot them down.

USB flash drive. This came in very handy during college for saving important files and I was always paranoid about doing more than just saving my work to the hard drive after a friend’s computer crashed and she lost everything right before deadline! I also used it periodically during high school whenever I did work on school computers.

Alarm clock. Well, you don’t want to be late for class!

Optional Back to School Items for College Students

Laptop. For college students, owning a laptop will make your life a whole lot simpler. There may not actually be enough space in your particular dorm room to rig up a desktop computer and its accessories, and even if there is, it can take away valuable study space for note-taking and revising. Having a laptop also gives you the flexibility to use it in classes or to find alternative study places away from your dorm room. You don’t necessarily need to buy an expensive model, especially if your budget isn’t going to stretch too far. Shopping around can result in reasonably priced laptops that are more than adequate for your studies. You can get a great laptop for less than $500 that has more than enough power than your college student needs.

A developing trend lately is for people to also use their laptops as their “notebook.” There are some great programs that allow you to easily take notes on your computer. No more deciphering if you choose to go this route!

Laptop bag. If you’re going to transport your laptop around campus, a laptop bag will make this a lot less troublesome and give your laptop some necessary protection.

Printer. Technically, this counts as optional because most colleges allow you to print out at the library. However, you’re likely to be restricted in terms of how much you can get away with so if you’re going to be doing lots of printing, you may want to think about having your own printer on hand. I didn’t personally have one with me at college, but I always wished that I had when a late-night printing session came up.

Television. This is another optional item, because most dorm lounges have a communal television that you can watch. If you’re not the sharing type, look for a relatively cheap used television that you can have in your dorm room. There’s no need for anything fancy, especially with the risk that possessions will get broken or stolen in dorm rooms. Craigslist would be the best place to find an old, tube TV that you can have. Believe me, you won’t do much TV watching in college. You’ll have so many other activities, studying, and sleeping to do that TV won’t be much of an option.

Flashlight. It might sound bizarre but you never know when a power cut might hit or how long you might be without power for. It’s also helpful to have if you’re up to no good outside at night!

Fan. The air conditioning won’t always be very effective in the dorm rooms (if the dorm rooms even have it), and a portable fan can be a big help if you can find somewhere to keep it while it’s not in use.

Don’t feel that you’ve got to spend big money on back to school supplies. You can save on most of the back to school items mentioned in this post by picking them up at the likes of Wal-Mart and Target. If you’re going to buy the electronic items mentioned in the optional section, you’re best off looking for something basic that still does the job in case it needs replacing quickly.

Do you have any other suggestions for essential back-to-school items?

(photo credit: sunshinecity)

  • Les Beans

    Thanks, Sally! This is a great list.

    We have to manage our money these days more carefully than ever.

    I also like to concentrate on so-called fixed costs, like utilities, cable and phones. Got my kid a prepaid cellphone, a Net 10. Very nice phone and excellent value. Nice way to manage cost and keep them low too.


    • Sally Aquire

      Thanks for commenting!

      Good advice about getting a prepaid phone.

  • The Saved Quarter

    If you have a laptop, you don’t really need a TV. Just watch on Hulu, or get Netflix.

    Also, as a money saving tip, I learned recently that many colleges now rent text books for less than the cost of used text books. It’s worth looking into!

    • Sally Aquire

      Thanks for commenting.

      Those are good tips, especially for the text books. Thanks for sharing!

  • Greg McFarlane

    Pen-buying tips? Seriously? Who buys pens?

    I went to college 20 years ago, and I never bought a single pen. Find me a business that doesn’t give them away. Or a classroom that doesn’t have one or two just lying around.
    Buying higher quality pens might seem like a waste of money at first but they’re more economical in the long term, because they tend to last longer before they need replacing.

    Are you writing for business executives, or for students? I can’t believe your idea of preaching frugality is to have college and high school kids buy Montblancs and Parkers because they “last longer”. You’re just as likely to lose an expensive pen as a 19ยข Bic, only with the latter you won’t be kicking yourself. Come on. This post was written just for the sake of writing.

    • Sally Aquire

      Sorry that the post didn’t hit the mark for you, Greg, but thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Re pens, higher quality doesn’t necessarily mean top of the range but in my experience, the extremely cheap pens have a tendency to stop working way before you get to the end and not everyone remembers to bring a spare one to classes.

    • Kira

      She never said Montblancs – she said not the cheapo pens. I buy the nicer ones at Staples and they are just fine. I buy the cheapo ones to use as hair sticks. The cheap ones do die much more quickly – usually they are cheaper because they have less ink in them. And the promotional ones are usually the cheap ones anyway.

      As for paper, I used to carry around a pack of 3-hole punched notebook paper, and then at the end of the day stuck the notes in the appropriate class binder. That way I didn’t have to carry separate notebooks, and could reuse the binders each semester.

      • Sally Aquire

        Thanks for commenting.

        That’s exactly what I meant about the cheap pens so glad you understood my point!

        That’s a good tip about just taking paper with you. At first, I took multiple notebooks and binders but I soon learnt that isn’t the easiest way to go about things!