school-suppliesMaybe I was just a nerd, but I always got excited about getting new school supplies each year when I was growing up. From backpacks to pencil cases, nothing filled me with more joy than packing it all up the night before the first day of school. But, by the end of the school year, that bright, shiny backpack was always stained with graphite and applesauce, the zipper was jammed and there was a hole in the bottom corner. Kids are tough on their school supplies, and if you want to save money, it’s best to buy ones that last.

NBC News recently reported that American families are spending more money on school supplies than ever – $74.9 billion nationally, and up to $670 per family. Because many public school budgets are shrinking, school supply lists are growing, and they’re starting to include pricier items. All of these changes are starting to put a strain on the average family’s budget. To avoid dropping hundreds of dollars each school year, focus on buying supplies that stand the test of time.

Backpacks

When it comes to the oh-so-important backpack purchase, it’s best to go with a brand you trust. It can be tough to find backpacks that are well-made, offer shoulder and back support and aren’t ridiculously expensive, but there are some brands out there focused on durability and affordability. While cute, trendy backpacks might look nice, they will likely fall apart by the end of the school year. By spending more money on a more durable pack, you’ll be paying less in the long run – don’t let those cheap, character-covered ones fool you.

Jansport is a big name in the backpack industry, and for good reason. Not only do they last a long time (some reviewers have had theirs over a decade!), but they feature comfortable straps and back support. On their website, you can also filter by feature, ranging from laptop and tablet sleeves to insulated cooler compartments. They’re not short on style, either. Jansport offers tons of different styles, patterns and colors to choose from, ranging in price from $40 to $245 for the heavy-duty options.

LL Bean backpacks are a staple for many. Each backpack has a satisfaction guarantee, and their website has a chart comparing all the features of the hundreds of styles offered so you know you’re getting the right fit. You can even monogram most of their backpacks, which I would have loved growing up. Their website breaks down their backpacks by age group so your little scholar doesn’t get one that’s too big or small.

Although they feature mostly camping and travel gear, REI has some great options for toting textbooks and laptops. From the the water-resistant, reflective fabric to the ergonomic shoulder harness, you can  tell REI focuses on making strong, durable gear. The downside? Their student backpacks lack some of the style options other companies have. The upside? You won’t have to worry about your daughter outgrowing her sparkly, pink backpack in a few years. And, with all the customizable options out there, you can put her personal stamp on her pack.

Notebooks

I have to admit, I’m particular when it comes to school supplies – especially notebooks. There’s nothing worse than snagging a sweater on a spiral-bound notebook gone rogue, or writing on paper so thin you can read yesterday’s notes from the other side.

My personal favorite brand of notebook is Staples Accel Spine Guard . The cloth spine cover prevents any spiral-bound mishaps. The paper is high quality, and you can get them in a bunch of colors. They have lasted me through multiple semesters, and they’re definitely my go-to notebook.

Five Star, another iconic school supply brand, guarantees their notebooks will last all school year. They too offer spine guards and festive colors, and you can even customize your notebook. Their Flex system allows you to change out the paper when it runs out by the semester’s end, and insert folders and planner pages at will. This way, you can keep the outer shell and just replace the insides as the year ­ – or years ­– go by.

Technology

As someone who recently graduated college, I swore by my laptop. The one thing that frustrated me was that I didn’t invest in a quality one that lasted through all four years. Instead, my parents and I looked for the cheapest deal when my prior one would, inevitably, crash after a year of heavy usage.

Consumer Reports rated Apple Macbooks higher than PC laptops, but not by much. However, the two companies have drastically different price points. Ryan O’ Hara, owner of Sphinx Technology Solutions, says there’s no easy answer when questioning which laptop to purchase.

“Reputations and computers don’t usually mix in my opinion,” O’ Hara said. “One company may have a durable product for a couple years, then (it fails to work), while another steps up and takes the crown. The only company that I’d say could have a reputation for (durability) would be Apple.”

O’Hara also said when it comes to Windows laptops, the amount you pay is reflective of the quality you’ll receive. “That $300 laptop special may last a year or so whereas something in the $600 range is more likely to last several years easily.”

No matter which laptop you choose, there are some things you can do to make sure it lasts as long as possible.

  • Cover it. Get a case or sleeve of some sort to protect it as much as possible. It’s not safe to throw it, unprotected, into a backpack.
  • Don’t plug it in too much. Laptop batteries are made for wire-free usage, so excessive charging can damage your long-term battery life.
  • Be careful where you leave it. Make sure it’s located far from any potential spills, extreme temperatures or animals.
  • Turn it off. If you have a conventional hard drive, extensive movements – like biking around campus – while your computer’s still on can do some damage because of all the moving parts inside. Conventional hard drives are older and less expensive than new alternative hard drive options, but they’re reliable and commonly used in current laptops.

While many retailers suggest paying upfront for an extended warranty plan, Consumer Reports suggests otherwise. Rather than putting your money on a warranty plan that may or may not provide you with the coverage you need, put the amount of money you’d spend on a warranty into a separate bank account for computer maintenance. This way, you’ll be able to pay a computer repair company directly for any issues down the road, and you don’t have to worry about an expiration date.

School supplies can break the bank if you have to keep buying the same ones again and again each year. By focusing on the durable options that will last the longest, you can save money in the long run – and avoid the headache that is the back-to-school aisle in late August.

Do you have any school supply hacks you’d like to share? Any time-trusted brands you swear by? Let us know in the comments section!

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