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.

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