Staples vs. the dollar store - the best back to school buys

Back to school can be a real pain in the wallet for parents. I know. And when my kids were school-age I didn't have a dollar store to go to for cheap school supplies. However, in order to save money, it's still a question of careful shopping, as I discovered on a recent trip to my local Staples to compare prices on the basics. Here's a sampling what I found. (Please check prices in your area.)

  • Binder exercise books. Staples has 200-page exercise books for $1.96 each compared to the dollar store's 140-page notebook for $1. That means you're paying .96 cents more for an extra 60 pages at Staples and probably a better quality paper as well. You decide.

  • 1" binders. Staples has Hilroy binders for .88 cents each. You can't beat that at the dollar store.
  • Index dividers. Staples sells Avery plastic dividers with write-on tab for $3.28 per package. If you don't need fancy, try a package of 10 index dividers for $1.

  • Mechanical pencils. The Staples brand comes in a package of 7 for $3.85 or .55 cents each. The dollar store ones are the better bargain, sold in a package of 6 for $1 or approximately .17 each.
  • School glue. Staples sells a 5.28 fl. oz. bottle of glue for .69 cents which beat the same size bottle at the dollar store by .31 cents.
  • Pencil case. The cheapest pencil case I could find at Staples cost $2.48. But why spend the money when you can get a sturdy cloth pencil case for $1 at your local dollar store?
  • Retractable pens. The Staples brand , with a comfort grip, sell in packages of 14 for $5.10 or .36 cents each. That beats the dollar store pens that sell for $1 for a package of two. I love my dollar store pens so, if you don't need or want 14 pens, the dollar store retractables are a good buy.
  • Binder calculator. The dollar store has a 6 x 3" calculator for $1, whereas the Staples brand of the same size and type costs $4.98. The only thing the Staples calculator has going for it is the fact that it comes in a variety of colors. My experience with dollar store calculators has been very favorable. Besides, if your kid loses it, you won't be as inclined to tear your hair out.
  • Geometry set. An 11-piece geometry set costs $3.49 at Staples. The 8-piece set at the dollar store is $2.49 less. How much are three extra pieces of plastic worth to you?
  • Colored markers. On a recent trip to the dollar store I found a 10-piece set of RoseArt classic markers for $1. The Crayola equivalent costs more than 3 times that at Staples.

Marlene Alexander is a freelance writer and dollar store diva. She writes about budget decorating using only items from dollar stores.

Read Full Story

Can't get enough personal finance tips?

Sign up for Finance Report by AOL and get everything from consumer news to money tricks delivered directly to your inbox daily!

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.