'Tis the season for school supply shopping – the sales on notebooks, bags, pens and pencils tell as much, not to mention the big, flashy signs announcing that it's back to school time.

Whether you're starting middle school, high school, university or whatever other type of education, you're bound to spend some time – and money! – on all sorts of school-related things, from highlighters to paper, pencil cases and markers.

Stores offer a wide array of choices and it can be easy to get lost in them, so I compiled this list of advice to keep in mind when you wander into the back to school department of your favorite store.

1. Know what you need before what you want.

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Make a list of the absolutely necessary items you need to get - after buying those, you can buy the other extra things you might like.

Count the number of subjects you're going to be studying and make sure you have at least one notebook (or 50 blank papers) for each.

If you have specific requirements (for art class, math class, science, lab work etc.) make sure that you buy the things you need to meet them, but don't get caught up in brands – most of the time, you can find identical things from small brands for much lower prices.

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In general…

  • You're going to need at least 10 pens for writing, and I advise getting 3 ordinary lead pencils for eventual drawings/charts etc.
  • A set of basic, colored pencils is also something useful to own, especially if you color-code or draw.
  • Don't forget an eraser and a pencil sharpener, plus a 15 cm (6 inch) ruler!
  • Get at least four different-colored highlighters (if you use them)
  • One set of sticky notes
  • At least two bookmarks
  • And a small planner/notebook/bloc notes to plan things out/schedule/write down deadlines and reminders etc.
  • A new pencil case is also a useful purchase! Be mindful of the material it is made of – something washable is your best bet in case your pens/highlighters/markers leak.
  • Invest in some plastic/cardboard files or clear file bags to organize any worksheets/paperwork and buy some labels as well – you're going to need to stick them onto these files to know what's in each of them.
  • You might also need a stapler (with staples, of course) and some paperclips, especially if you prefer using paper sheets over notebooks. Buy at least 2 little boxes of each!

2. Avoiding the marketing traps 101

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Notebooks with inspiring quotes written on them in golden, calligraphy letters, shiny pens with cute charms hanging from the top, that one adorable planner with the unicorn/mermaid/puppy/whatever-other-lovable-creature on it… how could anybody resist buying them?

Therefore, it is important to evaluate whether the extra spending is justified by the objective qualities of the product. Always ask yourself: Is the extra decoration/text etc. worth the extra amount of cash?

Treat yourself with something you like, of course, but don't dig uselessly deep into your pockets – you can always personalize your stuff yourself anyway!

3. Don't overstock!

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You'll be able to buy a couple more notebooks, a new set of pencils or a new marker when those you've just bought run out – you don't need to stock up on everything "just in case". If you get too many supplies at the beginning of your semester, you might not have enough room for them or even end up not using them at all – so, be reasonable!

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In fact, my rule of thumb when I shop (in general, not just for school stuff) is "be reasonable". Make sure that there is balance between your needs, wants and resources and don't let yourself be swayed by brand names and promises – you can be a fantastic student regardless of the kinds of school supplies you own and use.

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So, with that in mind… let's hit the shops!