Go back to school for less with our school supplies shopping test

Which stores got our kids outfitted and stocked up for less money? See our results


The aisles of school supplies have been looming since, well, in some cases, Fourth of July.

For many parents, just the thought of those aisles brings instant headaches. For kids and people who love school supplies, it’s like the gates of heaven have opened with angels singing a hallelujah to composition notebooks and colored pencils.

Of course, if you’re the parent with the headache, you want to get in and get out for the least amount of money possible. We’re here to help.

We took the school supply lists of two kids: 8-year-old Lukas Parra, an incoming third-grader at Becker Elementary with a 27-item list, and 12-year-old Kaitlyn Bradley, an incoming eighth-grader at Small Middle School with an 11-item list plus three other items middle-schoolers typically need (1-inch binders, a padded large binder organizer and a lock). We also priced backpacks.

In clothing, we compared prices for jeans and T-shirts. Prices are before taxes to give you what you would spend on tax-free weekend, Aug. 5-7.

We rated our shopping experience by price, ease of finding all the items on the list and if we could find all the items. If teachers specified a brand, we shopped for that brand. If not, we went with what was less expensive, unless the value was visibly subpar.

School supplies

Wal-Mart

What we spent: Lukas, $61.15; Kaitlyn, $30.54 required, $57.36 with other items; $8.99 backpack

Go here for: 17-cent spiral notebooks; 50-cent composition books; 82-cent notebook paper; 50-cent scissors; 97-cent pencil pouch; 97-cent 1-inch binders; 47 cents for 18 regular pencils

Skip this store for: $1.97 plastic folders with pockets and prongs; $7.97 lock; $2.98 gallon zip-top freezer bags (we needed 32, so we had to buy three boxes)

Did we find everything?: Yes.

Ease of shopping: Fair. The back-to-school section is right in the front, but we ended up in seven areas of the store to complete the list. The store is well-stocked.

Target

What we spent: Lukas, $76.44; Kaitlyn, $45.93 required, $72.22 with other items; $9.88 backpack

Go here for: 50-cent colored plastic folders with pockets and prongs (but the black ones were $1.49); $12.99 padded large binder; 50-cent composition book with graph paper; 97-cent scissors for 2; $4.09 for 40 gallon-size Ziploc freezer bags

Did we find everything?: Yes.

Ease of shopping: Good. Target had a very open shopping area in the back of the store with many things in bins or hanging on aisles around those bins. For earbuds, Kleenex and hand sanitizer, we had to go elsewhere in the store.

H-E-B

What we spent: Lukas, $71.91; Kaitlyn, $28.20 required, $49.34 with other items; $10 backpack

Go here for: 2 for $5 earbuds; 50-cent pencil sharpener; 50-cent composition books; 82-cent notebook paper; 32-cent plastic ruler; 15-cent regular folders; $5.97 flash drive

Skip this store for: $1.73 composition book with graph paper; $2.97 scissors (but you get two)

Did we find everything?: Yes.

Ease of shopping: Great. Almost everything was on two back-to-back aisles and the store is stocked. Kleenex, zip-top bags and hand sanitizer were nearby on the same side of the store. We did have to price check the scissors.

Randalls

What we spent: Lukas, $104.14; Kaitlyn, $48.48 required, $74.83 with other items (major items missing from both lists); $7.99 backpack

Go here for: 50-cent plastic folders with prongs and pockets

Skip this store for: $5.99 for 18 Dixon latex-free pencils; $1.99 pencil sharpeners; 99-cent spiral notebooks

Did we find everything?: No. We did not find washable crayons, pencil pouches, a composition book with graph paper, a flash drive or a big padded binder.

Ease of shopping: Ugh. Crayola products were in three different places. Many things had no prices on them and no price on the shelf. We wandered and wandered and did not find.

Walgreens

What we spent: Lukas, $138.58; Kaitlyn, $69.99 required, $114.43 with other items; $5 backpack

Go here for: $5 backpack; $3.99 for three big boxes of Kleenex

Skip this store for: $2.59 for a pencil/crayon sharpener; $1.99 spiral notebooks; $4.49 1-inch binders

Did we find everything?: Sort of. We couldn’t find a composition notebook with graph paper, but we found a graph paper pad. We had to settle for regular crayons instead of the required washable ones.

Ease of shopping: Fair. A small store makes things easier to find, but selections were limited, especially on items such as folders and spiral notebooks that we needed a certain number of a certain color.

CVS

What we spent: $0

Did we find everything?: No. Our CVS did not have its school supplies out last week. A store manager told us to expect the display at the beginning of August.

Staples

What we spent: Lukas, $91.84; Kaitlyn, $49.99 required, $77.22 with other items; $19.99 backpack. If you buy a backpack, you get 25 percent off school supplies. That brought our totals with the backpack to $88.87, $57.48 and $77.98.

Go here for: 17-cent spiral notebooks; 50-cent composition books; 97-cent colored pencils

Skip this store for: $4.49 scissors for 2 pairs; $4.99 for red ballpoint pens

Did we find everything?: Yes.

Ease of shopping: Not great. We had to explore the whole store on a massive treasure hunt. Notebook paper as well as a flash drive were hard to find. We also had to price check the scissors.

Office Depot

What we spent: Lukas, $93.14; Kaitlyn, $54.14 required, $91.88 with additional items; $20.29 backpack

Go here for: $1 Kleenex box; 99 cent scissors for a two-pack; 1-cent spiral notebooks with $5 purchase

Skip this store for: $20.29 backpacks; $7.89 low-odor dry erase markers; $3.99 1-inch binders

Did we find everything?: Yes.

Ease of shopping: Not bad. Everything was on one side of the store.

Dollar General

What we spent: Lukas, $63.64; Kaitlyn, $30.15 required, $36.15 with other items (items were missing on both lists); $8 backpack

Go here for: $1.50 lock; 50 cents for 18 pencils; $1 earbuds (though they were out of stock); $1 hand sanitizer

Skip this store for: $4.49 scissors for two pairs; $4.99 for red ballpoint pens; $1.50 plastic folders with pockets and prongs

Did we find everything?: No. Selections were limited, especially on items that required a certain color. We could not find a flash drive, a padded binder, washable crayons and a composition book with graph paper.

Ease of shopping: Not really. For a small store, we had to go all over it to find things. In fact, the store appeared to have three different back-to-school sections.

Clothing

We shopped for boys’ and women’s jeans/pants and boys’ and women’s T-shirts. Items could be on sale, but there had to be many of them and not require a store card or coupon. We also ruled out shirts that were practically see-through because of poor quality, and leggings/jeggings didn’t count as jeans. We also made sure to be in dress code. Last year, we shopped thrift stores for our clothing, and in many cases found better quality for the same or lower price than what we found in stores this year.

Wal-Mart

Boys’ jeans: $10

Boys’ T-shirt: $2.97

Women’s jeans: $9.88

Women’s T-shirt: $2.87

Target

Boys’ jeans: $8.98

Boys’ T-shirt: $5

Women’s jeans: $27.99

Women’s T-shirt: $5

Macy’s

Boys’ jeans: $17.99

Boys’ T-shirt: $4.63

Women’s jeans: $22

Women’s T-shirt: $6.99

Old Navy

Boys’ jeans: $10

Boys’ T-shirt: $6

Women’s jeans: $15

Women’s T-shirt: $8

Kohl’s

Boys’ jeans: $17.99

Boys’ T-shirt: $6.99

Women’s jeans: $17.99

Women’s T-shirt: $5.99

The winners

School supplies by price

Lukas’ list: Wal-Mart, which was $10.76 less expensive than second-place H-E-B

Of note: Lukas’ mother already bought his supplies online through the PTA. She spent $71.95 without tax, only 4 cents more than H-E-B and $10.80 more than Wal-Mart. Of course, compared to shopping in-store on tax-free day, she’s paid an additional 8.25 percent.

Kaitlyn’s required list: H-E-B, which was $2.20 less expensive than Wal-Mart

Kaitlyn’s required list, with other items: H-E-B, which was $8.02 less expensive than Wal-Mart

Backpack: Walgreens. The $5 bags were surprisingly good quality. The Staples offer — 25 percent off school supplies with a backpack purchase — seems like a good deal, but the $19.99 backpacks were small, with cartoon characters on the front, and if you added a H-E-B or Wal-Mart backpack to those stores’ supplies you were still paying more.

School supplies by ease of shopping: PTA school supplies by far. For in-store experience: H-E-B, followed by Target and Walgreens.

Clothing by price

Boy’s clothing: Wal-Mart was 99 cents less expensive than Target. Kohl’s was the most expensive at $12.01 more expensive.

Women’s clothing: Wal-Mart was $10.26 less expensive than Old Navy. Old Navy was also only 98 cents less expensive than Kohl’s. Target was the most expensive — $20.25 more than Wal-Mart — because it also had the most expensive jeans.

Clothing by ease of shopping: Kohl’s and Macy’s were easy once you found the boys and juniors departments. Old Navy proved more difficult to find items to go with other items and items that followed dress code or were appropriate.



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