Price Wars: School Supplies

With school just around the corner (and already beginning in some parts of the country), sales on school supplies are in full swing. As a homeschooling mom, I buy a ton of school supplies to tie us over until the sales hit again next August. I always strive to get things at a good price, but I don’t like to run from store to store looking for everything. After all, my time (and gas budget) is worth something, right?

A couple of weeks ago Walmart gave a few of the Walmart Moms a mission, and I chose to accept it. The assignment: Take a school supply list of my choice and buy the supplies at Walmart and another store of my choice to see who has the better overall prices.

To keep the assignment authentic, yet relevant to most of my readers, who have public schooled students, I went to our local school district website and grabbed the supply lists for my children’s grades. Even though we homeschool now, we use most traditional school supplies. If I end up not needing something, I’ll donate it to the school.

I took a look at the supply lists and added a few things that I knew I needed for homeschooling. Here’s the list I took shopping:

7th Grade School Supply List

  • 1” white binder with plastic overlay
  • Pencil Pouch
  • 2 fine tip dry erase markers
  • Notebook paper
  • Calculator (specifically Texas Instruments TI 30X IIS)
  • #2 Pencils
  • Glue Stick
  • Spiral Notebooks (2)
  • Pens (blue, black, and red)
  • Protractor
  • Highlighters
  • Eraser
  • Scissors
  • Ruler (metric/inches)
  • Colored Pencils
  • Composition Book
  • Compass (added by me)
  • Pencil Sharpener (added by me)
  • Clipboard (added by me)

2nd Grade School Supply List

  • 1 pair Fiskars scissors
  • 4 dry erase pens
  • 1 small pencil box
  • 8 glue sticks
  • 1 package baby wipes
  • 2 boxes Kleenex
  • 1 box Crayola Crayons (16 ct.) – I changed to 24 count, because they’re less expensive…I always wonder why they ask for 16 count.
  • 2 spiral notebooks (wide ruled)
  • 2 dozen Ticonderoga pencils
  • 3 pocket folders
  • 1 ruler (metric/inches)
  • 1 ream white copy paper
  • 2 pink pearl erasers (I changed this to white erasers, because I like them better)
  • Construction paper (added by me)
  • water colors (added by me)
  • rubber cement (added by me)
  • clipboard (added by me)

My Shopping Methodology

I needed to decide on a store besides Walmart to shop. I settled on Fred Meyer (a Kroger store), as I shop there a lot, and I was confident Fred Meyer would have everything on my list.

I wanted to compare prices, but I also wanted to shop authentically, and the fact is, I don’t always buy the lowest priced item. I decided to shop the way I would normally shop. Some brands I had to buy, because they were specified on the school supply list (such as Ticonderoga pencils). Other items I’m just picky about (buying Crayola vs. Roseart, for example), so I bought my preferred brand. And some items don’t really matter to me (folders, paper, notebooks, etc). For those items, I went for the cheapest option possible.

Here’s how it went.

The Results

RSS and email readers may have to click through to view video.

At the end of the day, I spent $71.88 at Walmart (the Medford store, for you locals) at $88.95 at Fred Meyer (the North Medford store). I was mostly able to find the same brands at both stores, but there were a few discrepancies.

  • I got 3 extra erasers at Walmart, because it was cheapest to buy a 6 pack.
  • I got 48 more sheets of construction paper at Walmart, because I bought the cheapest package of construction paper at both stores, and the Walmart package was 88 sheets, while the Fred Meyer package was 40 sheets.
  • The Walmart baby wipes package had 8 more wipes than the Fred Meyer package. I bought the cheapest at both stores.
  • I got a metal compass at Walmart and a plastic compass at Fred Meyer, because that’s what was available.
  • I got 6 more glue sticks at Fred Meyer, because the cheapest way to get the amount I needed was to buy 2 eight packs (buy one, get one free). I also had to buy Avery brand glue sticks at Fred Meyer, rather than Elmer’s, which I prefer. Elmer’s was available, but it would have cost a lot more to buy it.
  • I got two extra dry erase markers at Fred Meyer, because it was less expensive to buy a 10 pack than two 8 packs.
  • I got one more highlighter at Fred Meyer, because the cheapest package was a 6 pack. At Walmart it was a 5 pack.

After all that shopping, I’m not going to need school supplies for a long while! I still love both stores, but in the battle of the school supply prices, Walmart has the advantage over Fred Meyer.

Make sure to watch Consumer Queen, Deal Seeking Mom, A Cowboy’s Wife, and From Dates to Diapers to see how Walmart compares to other stores!

*Disclosure: I am a participant in the Walmart Moms program. Walmart has provided me with compensation to perform the above shopping comparison. Participation in this program is voluntary. All opinions are my own, always have been, always will be.


By , on Aug 9, 2010
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Amy:

    I live in a suburb of Atlanta and I have probably 100 or more stores within a few minutes drive from my home including a mall, Costco, sam’s club, four walmarts, three targets, four office supply stores, several grocery stores and a plethora of drug stores of various names. I also have the time and inclination to make the stops along my way to cherry pick the penny items each week. I homeschool one and have the other in public high school. So far I have spent about $10 for school supplies this year including the expensive 3″ binders my older daughter needed.

    I stock up to the extreme and carry my supplies from year to year. I also keep an eye on the supply section at the dollar store. I’m not usually fond of their stuff, but sometimes you can make out like a bandit. About three years ago I got boxes of 60 pentech pencils with designs on them. I bought 14 of them and used them for teacher gifts that year. I still have about 200 pencils left.

    Last year I couldn’t get notebook paper. Luckily we had a good enough stock to last through the year. This year I bought 20 packs. I will suggest that if you keep a stock of glue that you pay the extra nickel for elmer’s. The store brand didn’t hold up over time and my 15 year old had science experiments that only worked with the chemical make up of elmer’s glue. I wound up paying $2 a bottle in May.

  2. I don’t have a Walmart in my city, but I do like to visit one nearby during school season. I remember last year buying 3 or 4 bags worth of glue, pencils, pens and paper for under $20. My kids go through a ton of paper, so I should stock up even more this year.

    I have a local CVS that has had some good deals, but the selection is not as great as Walmart. Target also has some good deals, but again not as cheap for paper notebooks, pencils, pens, and tape.

  3. Walmarts do have everything and often more times then not are cheaper. But Like someone said in an earlier comment Walmarts are always over crowded and a lot of times out of stuff you may need or want because of so many other people needing the same thing.

  4. I am new to being a frugal saver. We have a ton of debt that we are attempting to pay off and my husband has just lost his job. I also homeschool and have found that I have been able to get free school supplies or even things less than .20 cents each at Walgreens and Rite Aid using their Register Rewards or Wellness card perks. Just a thought! Thanks for being here. I will be reading.

    • Lisa:

      I would also suggest Walgreens, they always have several items for under $1. I am doing shopping for 4 in different grades and am trying to find the best deals around! We are moms on a mission to conquer the yearly school supply list(s). Good luck to everyone!

  5. Kids just love back to school time.. Buying all those cute and colorful supplies and they are one sale too. They just can’t resist… For double savings, I use coupons.. :)

  6. Pamela:

    Since you had to buy so much..double lists..why don’t you donate some of the items to charities that provide back to school items for kids that can’t afford them!

    • Lynnae:

      That is my plan!

  7. Do you find the glue sticks age? I’ve bought in bulk before and they’ve dried out before i could get to them. Granted i don’t do a lot of gluing these days

    • Lynnae:

      I haven’t found that glue sticks age, if I keep them in the packaging until we need them. I buy about a year’s worth at a time.

  8. Allison:

    I try my best to NOT shop at Walmart. Usually, the particular items I go for are not in stock. The stores are crowded & not easy to shop in. About a month ago I decided enough was enough – it was about 8:30 on a Saturday night; I had about 10 items (of course, excluding the one that I really needed that wasn’t available). When I got to the front of the store, about 4 lanes were open, with anywhere from at least 8 to over 12 people in each line. I left my cart, and I will not go back. It’s understandable though – those cashiers make so much money that the Waltons can’t afford to hire any more. But everyone else was willing to stay.

    Not me. I have no debt, and my time and energy are worth more. than saving a few dollars..

    Oh yeah, the self service lines weren’t open either.

    • Lynnae:

      I’m sorry that’s been your experience at Walmart. I’m fortunate that the Walmarts in my area are generally pleasant places to shop. The lines at one of my local stores get long from time to time, but the other two are generally easy to get in and out of quickly.

  9. Yankeegal:

    This whole school supply list has taken on a whole life of it’s own-Yikes! My youngest is now 19, but I remember my favorite school supply list from one of his teachers-for 5th grade. It was simply-“Show up on the first day with a pencil and a good attitude.” One of the best school years my son enjoyed. This teacher was amazing! No highlighters, dry-erase markers, etc… needed to teach a full spectrum of subjects. I will also add that we, the parents, kept a list of supplies needed for his class-tissues, snacks, etc…and bought these as needed.

  10. marci357:

    @Bridget & Looby – She didn’t say it was better – she said it was less expensive for what was on the list at the time she went shopping. If the prices had gone the other way, she would have reported that also!

    Two weeks ago tho, Freddies had a major major sales on back to school supplies – I wonder if the outcome would have been different then? The spiral notebooks were only 10 cents each for one thing :) I stocked up then, especially on spiral notebooks, even tho I don’t have kids in school…. but with my daughter in college and her kids in school, at some point in time they may need something and it will save a run to the store as they just live across the street from me :)

    We ONLY have Freddies here for school supplies, so there was no comparison shopping here to take advantage of.

    • Lynnae:

      Exactly, Marci! From years of shopping for school supplies, I know that Walmart has the best prices, but I still shop around for other things. Like I said in my post, I love Freddies, and I shop there frequently in addition to Walmart, and a bunch of other stores. I guess you could say I’m an equal opportunity shopper. :)

  11. Looby:

    +1 to Bridget’s comment.

  12. I love school supplies. My kids are little and only one is even in preschool, but I definitely stock up on crayons, colored pencils, water colors, lined notebooks (for coloring in at church), and glue sticks for our craft projects at home during this time. I have found that Walmart is the cheapest too overall. I like seeing the comparison though.

  13. Stacie:

    Interesting to see a side-by-side comparason. You raise an interesting point, though, about gas and time is money. I love that Walmart sells practically everything and at a great price, but I only go in about twice a year. Ours is crowded both in the store with stuff and with people. It’s hard to find a parking spot, and the way the checkout is set up I have more than once gotten all the way home to find one of my bags were left behind. I still go, it just forces me to figure out what can be bought best at Walmart and one my few visits stock up.

    Love the back to school sales!

  14. Bridget:

    Seriously, I think this is the last Walmart is better frugal article I can read. I’m just not into the advertisement.

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