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30 budget-friendly back-to-school essentials under $25

We found some major deals that'll take them to the head of the class.
Illustration of back to school products and a little girl with her school backpack
TODAY Illustration / Amazon / Getty Images

Shopping for school supplies is an exciting time for kids eager to update their gear. But it can be a bit stressful for parents, especially when you’re on a budget.

With the start of the school year just a few weeks away for some (and already here for many others!), school supply lists are in full swing and there’s a lot to check off. You might feel like you have to spend top dollar to get durable and long-lasting school essentials, but there are several affordable options that will work just as well.

How to save money when shopping for school supplies

According to a study of 1,300 consumers conducted by global accounting firm KPMG, respondents planned to spend $380 per student on average this year. A majority of that same group also anticipated (and were apprehensive about) spending more on products due to inflation.

On a larger scale, an annual survey released by the National Retail Federation and Proper Insights & Analytics revealed expected spending for back-to-school this year to land at $864 per household. To afford it, shoppers in the same survey admitted to cutting back in other spending areas in order to cover the cost of school supplies.

Despite the expectation of higher spending, the NRF study also showed that shoppers are being more mindful of where they spend their money with 43 percent of respondents doing more comparative shopping online and 42 percent shopping for sales more often.

Comparison shopping is one of the tips from Kristin McGrath, shopping expert and editor of The Real Deal by RetailMeNot, to help cut costs while shopping for school supplies. This can come in the form of comparing online prices across retailers to in-store prices you're seeing or curating carts across different sites to compare total costs.

If you're shopping online, she also suggests searching for promo codes to see if you can reduce your total. "If you happen to find a place offering a 10 percent promo code, that can make a big difference in your cart," she told us.

Another way to save money McGrath recommended is looking for gift card offers with certain purchases, something she says she sees at Target often.

"We’re not really seeing any of those gift card offers [on] back-to-school supplies specifically, but if there’s something else you need to stock up on like pet food or cleaning supplies and buying those things gets you a $5 or $10 Target gift card, that’s something you can turn around and use for your school supplies," she said.

If you're okay with long-term savings over immediate deals, she recommends taking advantage of cash-back offers. "With inflation, everything’s going to be more expensive than you want it to be. You can’t always change the price [and] you can’t always find a promo code," she noted. In those cases where savings aren't immediately available, cash-back incentives will return a few dollars to you down the line that you can use on anything you'd like.

Making sure that you save money and stay on budget this school year is Shop TODAY’s goal, and we’ve found the best affordable school supplies that will help get your kids ready for the new year. From budget-friendly notebooks to insulated lunchboxes, you'll find options below for no more than $25!

Cheap school supplies under $25

iBayam Multi-Purpose Scissors

For their seemingly never-ending school projects and craft endeavors, you'll want to keep a good quality pair of scissors around. Luckily, this pack comes with three pairs in different colors for less than $8.

Amazon Basics Stapler

A stapler is something you forget about until you need it. This one staples up to 10 sheets at a time and comes with 1,000 staples so you won't need to worry about running out any time soon.

Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are perfect for studying, to-do list making and just general reminders about upcoming deadlines. Like highlighters, they're a hot commodity that they'll need plenty of throughout the school year. They can be pricey, but this pack that rings in at a little over $1 per pad is a deal you won't want to pass up.

Manual Pencil Sharpeners

With this pack of four sharpeners, they'll be prepared for every exam with a stack of freshly sharpened pencils.

Scotch Magic Tape

Tape is a school necessity that's also something you can use around the rest of the house, too. This set of six rolls has almost 31,000 verified five-star ratings.

BIC Round Stic Xtra Life Ballpoint Pen

Kids lose pens all the time, so it might be best to opt for a larger pack of these pens for less than $10. With any luck, one pack can make it through the entire school year but even if it doesn't, replenishing their stock won't cost an arm and a leg.

Zebra Pen Z-Grip Retractable Ball Point Pen

A bestseller in ballpoint pens, this 18-pack is also offered in red and blue packs. It has almost 44,000 verified five-star ratings.

Sharpie Highlighters

Whether they're studying or annotating their current reads for English class, highlighters are a hot commodity throughout the school year. This set of 12 for less than $6 is a great deal and comes with different colors so they can color-code their notes to their heart's content.

Lap Tray by Creatology

This lap tray is perfect for younger students working on projects at home. It allows them to set up anywhere they want like the couch or in bed and has three compartments to hold necessary supplies and maybe even a snack or two without making a mess.

Cat & Jack Adaptive Kids Backpack

Backpacks are basically a necessity for keeping school supplies in one place. This adaptive style from Target-exclusive brand Cat & Jack is designed with multiple ports for tubes and cables, tuck-away backstraps and an interior laptop sleeve that fits devices up to 15 inches. This cute unicorn style is sure to be a hit with younger children. The adaptive style also comes in other themes including skateboards, butterflies, space and dinosaurs.

IMG Kids Backpack with Headphone Set

Instead of shelling out extra dough on a backpack and all of the matching accessories, opt for something like this set that has everything they'll need for school in a coordinated set for less than $25. The backpack is paired with the matching insulated lunchbox, a BPA-free water bottle, headphones and a carabiner clip to keep it all together. It even comes in two other patterns. For the price, it's a deal that can't be beat.

Oxford One-Subject Notebooks

This set of six one-subject spiral notebooks from Oxford come in different colors to help your children quickly identify their subjects at a glance with color-coding efficiency. Each notebook has 70 double-sided sheets with red margin lines.

Five Star Two-Pocket Stay-Put Plastic Folder

This folder has two horizontal pockets and prong fasteners to keep track of loose-leaf paper or hole-punched sheets. It's also water-resistant, which is helpful in case liquid accidentally spills in your child's backpack.

Texas Instruments TI-30XS MultiView Scientific Calculator

Depending on what grade your child is in, a quality calculator is always good to have on hand. This one from Texas Instruments is designed with unique features to allow you to enter more than one calculation, compare results and explore patterns — all on the same screen!

EastHill Storage Pencil Cases Zip Bag

Store up to 50 pencils, pens, glue sticks and other supplies in this nifty, multislot pencil case from EastHill. It's also available in five other colors.

AmazonBasics Pre-Sharpened No. 2 HB Pencils, 30-Pack

A new batch of pencils is a necessity when it comes to back-to-school shopping. This 30-pack of pencils comes pre-sharpened and ready to use!

Paper Mate SharpWriter Mechanical Pencils

Mechanical pencils are the way to go if your student is all about convenience. This set of 36 from Paper Mate has over 10,000 verified five-star ratings on Amazon and is on sale for 50% off at $8.99.

Paper Mate Gel Pens

For a fun and more permanent option that dries three times faster than the average gel pen, consider this large array of colorful pens from Paper Mate.

Crayola Silly Scents Scented Markers

What's better than magic markers? Scented magic markers! This Crayola set comes with all the colors of the rainbow and is sure to get your child's creative juices flowing.

Crayola Washable Crayons

These giant washable crayons are another fun way to add some excitement to their arts and crafts projects. Parents can also rest easier knowing that these crayons are nontoxic and wipe off most surfaces with warm water and a sponge.

Maalbok Academic Planner 2022-2023

A planner is the key to staying on top of assignments and keeping organized. This option from Amazon is good through June 2023 and includes a weekly and monthly calendar with reference pages, contacts and space for notes. Plus, it has over 8,500 verified five-star Amazon ratings.

BIC Clean Wite-Out

These Wite-Out tape dispensers are ideal for silly mistakes that your kid may make when writing in their notes or planner.

Elmer's Washable Disappearing Purple School Glue Sticks

If you've ever helped your child with arts and crafts projects, then you know you can never have too many glue sticks. This set of 12 is available for less than $5!

Paper Mate Pink Pearl Erasers

Does your student quickly wear out the eraser on the end of their pencil? Try keeping a few of these large pink erasers on hand whenever they're hard at work or studying away. These Paper Mate erasers are an Amazon bestseller and come in a pack of 12 for less than $6.

AmazonBasics Three-Ring Binder

As your child gets older and has more schoolwork to carry around, these spacious binders will definitely come in handy and help them stay organized.

Samsill 1.5-Inch Three-Ring Binder

For a pop of color and a little bit more space, consider this set of 1.5-inch three-ring binders, which comes in pink, purple, blue and green.

Avery Big Tab Write and Erase Durable Plastic Dividers

These budget-friendly dividers are a great way to organize each subject. Each pack comes with eight erasable plastic dividers for your child to reuse every semester.

MazForce Insulated Lunch Bag

Whether they’re learning from home or going back to school, a healthy diet is a necessity. One way you can get your child excited about eating well is with a fun kids' lunch box. This insulated option from Mazforce comes in 10 different colors and costs less than $15!

CamelBak Eddy Kids BPA-Free Water Bottle

If you have a small child, this spill-proof and easy to clean CamelBak kids water bottle will definitely come in handy. It's available in fun patterns with sharks, flowers, unicorns and more.

FlowFly Kids Insulated Lunch Box

The FlowFly Kids Insulated Lunch Box has plenty of room to hold your children's favorite lunches and snacks. It comes in fun prints like blue camo, mermaids and dinosaurs.