Price check: Which store has the LOWEST back-to-school prices

Don't Waste Your Money
Posted at 6:36 PM, Aug 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-09 11:14:27-04

It's now peak back to school season, especially with this weekend's Sales Tax Holiday in Ohio, Florida, and a handful of other states.

Many stores are advertising low prices. But who really sells the most for the least?

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Moms each have personal preferences

We found Nicole Smith and her daughters checking their back to school haul from the Target store in Newport, Kentucky.

Smith says Target's smartphone app makes it a no brainer for their school supplies. "I use the Cartwheel app,"  she said. "It takes money off and gives me good deals."
But would the Smiths perhaps save more at Walmart or Amazon?

Ellie Hoffman, who we found at Target, thinks she might save more elsewhere. She now does a lot of her school shopping online, to avoid crowds, and for free 2-day shipping from Amazon.

"We have a Prime membership," she said. "So if we find something online with Prime, you get it very quickly."

We compare prices

To see who has the best deals in 2017, we checked prices at four big national retailers: Walmart, Target, Staples, and Amazon, with the help of researcher Carrisa Salyers.

She priced a typical first grade list that included:
Number 2 pencils, Elmer's School glue, Crayola markers, pink erasers, along with spiral notebooks and Clorox wipes, among others. (See below for full comparison)
Of the bricks and mortar stores:   

  • Staples was $65, the most expensive.
  • Target was $57,a bit cheaper.
  • Walmart $53, the low price winner.

However, on certain days you will find lower prices at Staples on a few specific items, as they often have dollar sales and even items for just a penny.  Check Staples flier for weekly deals.

How does Amazon compare?

Of course more and more parents are doing their shopping these days online instead of going to bricks and mortar stores.

But will Amazon really save you money when it comes to back to school?

We were surprised by what we found. It turned out Amazon had few deep discounts, and was highest priced, at $108 for our basket.

It may not have bee a fluke: a survey this summer by price comparison site Wikibuy reported in Fortune magazine found the same thing, saying "Amazon's school supplies were 15% higher."

It says Amazon doesn't offer the 1 cent deals, and 2-for-1 sales that you will find in almost every store right now on various school supplies.  Without the big sales, Amazon's price came out highest.

Nicole Smith says for now, she's fine with that, because she still likes going to the store.

"I have considered shopping online," she said, "but it's easier when I can see the items in my hand."  That's especially true with pants, gym shoes, and backpacks, where your child can try them on.

Meantime, dollar stores may be even cheaper than Walmart on some items, but don't expect a very wide selection.

Here's the full back-to-school comparison list:

Big savings this weekend

Finally, you may want to shop for clothing and the basics during the upcoming Sales Tax Holiday.

Incidentally, the tax break is also available online, where Amazon will drop sales taxes in each state as it holds its holiday.

That way you don't waste your money.

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