Back to School, Office Supply Shopping: cheaper does not mean better


Cover image showing coloured pencils, for blog post cover

I used to love back-to-school shopping and office supply shopping. A new academic planner, notepad and binders symbolized a fresh start. It is a time of new possibilities, new friends, learning new things and getting good grades.

This feeling has continued all these years after I have left full and part-time degree programs. I still buy academic planners, my favourite one recently arrived. September is a great time for a fresh start.

More recently I spent several years working on short term construction contracts from 5 months to 18 months long. At the beginning of each contract, we had to set up a site office near or between construction sites. This meant purchasing office supplies and often getting new computers, printers, and furniture. If you worked in the field, it meant setting up your self contained office in your vehicle. Every construction season was like back to school shopping, except that it was largely done through order forms.

Back to school time has always been the time when I stock up on office supplies for my home office. There are great deals out there, with more stores carrying a good selection of the basics at a good prices than the rest of the year.

Sunset image for Tomorrow is a new day with not mistakes in it


Decreasing quality

In more recent years I have learnt to look at some of the “great deals” with caution. Some of the products that have fun colours and designs to attract students, look great but perform poorly.

In recent years I have purchased packs of ball pens in great colours like purple, pink, turquoise and orange but have thrown most of them away because they almost tear the paper to get them to write. I have purchased multi-packs of mechanical pencils where several in the pack will not dispense the lead. In site offices, we have had cheap ball pens that leak and leave a mess on documents.

Most recently I bought a stand/easel for my flip chart paper that I use to brainstorm ideas. The stand was $70 and was one of the cheaper options available. The parts did not match the instruction drawings and it looked awfully cheap, worst of all it could not do the job it was supposed to do. It will be taken back and I will be making my own holder from scraps of wood in my garage.

Back-to-school supplies like many products are cheaper than ever but some serve their function poorly. Office supplies targeted at businesses, like the easel/stand supplies are relatively expensive for non-functional junk.

So if supplies are this cheap, what is the issue?

Many of the office, back to school supplies are junk. The price tag appears to be cheap, but they do not do their job well and end up in the garbage after not much use at all. With great deals on big multi-packs does this really matter?

Absolutely! These products used energy and resources to make, energy for shipping and your time and personal energy to do the shopping. For the student looking for a great new start this can be frustrating when their tools don’t work well.

Products that were once made to last or made of renewable materials like paper, cardboard or wood are now plastic disposable items. Products that were once made domestically are now made overseas.

I still have some of my lovely coloured pencils and metal pencil cases from many years ago. These pencils are lovely colours, made in the USA, sold in Canada and still work well many years later. Sadly, this brand no longer exists. I also have some other pens and pencils that I have had many years that work well too.

Image of art supplies with quote

How does this tie back in to the topic of this blog of living a happy, healthy, green life?

In order to enjoy this time of year and make the most of a fresh start we need good tools to do a good job. We must not get caught up in the great deals that can leave use with poor tools that we end up throwing out.

Back-to-school can be a wonderful, exciting time for adults and children alike. Overbuying and poor buying choices can result in frustration, wasted time, money, resources and waste.

Back to School Shopping Tips to make sure you get fun and function in your supplies without wrecking the environment.

  1. Shop your house first. When I did this, I was amazed at all the supplies that were in my house, bags & car. I even found some treasures I had forgotten about.
  2. Before shopping, make a list of what you need.
  3. When shopping, shop for function first. Do not be seduced by items just because they are on sale.
  4. Shop for durability when buying items that will be heavily used or needed for many years.
  5. To make old stuff new, or functional items look great, customize or upcycle them. Make new covers for notebooks, binders, and other items.
  6. Instead of buying new tech items, when you have existing items that will still do the job, add stickers, a new cover or case or something to make it look new. Organize files and apps. Take the device in for service and an internal clean up to keep it working well.


Back to School Shopping Tips


Cover for blog post on shopping for back to school, office supplies. Image of school supplies.

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