Dollar Stores vs. Drug Stores: The Best Back-to-School Savings

  • Price War

    With school starting up in a little over a month – and even earlier at some colleges and school districts – it’s time to start stocking up on supplies. In addition to backpacks and new clothes, there’s also the laundry list of rulers, pens and assorted classroom accessories that every child is required to bring. But where’s the best place to make your purchase? To find out, MainStreet took an actual list of required school supplies for a seventh grader at a local middle school in New York. We then picked ten essential items from the list and went shopping at a drugstore and a 99-cent store in the same neighborhood to see how the prices stacked up. Here’s what we found for each item. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    English/Metric Ruler
  • English/Metric Ruler

    Drug Store Price: $3.49 (1 metal ruler) Dollar Store Price: 99 cents (3 wooden rulers) The metal ruler will probably last longer than the wooden ones, but you’re still getting three rulers for less than a third of the price of the single metal ruler. The dollar store wins at 33 cents per ruler. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Spiral Notebook
  • Spiral Notebook

    Drug Store Price: $2.29 (100 sheets) Dollar Store Price: 99 cents (120 sheets) These notebooks are both designed to fit into a standard three-ring binder. But you’re paying 82.5 cents per 100 sheets at the dollar store, which is just more than a third of the cost of the drugstore notebook. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Three-Ring Binder
  • Three-Ring Binder

    Drug Store Price: $4.99 (1 inch binder) Dollar Store Price: 99 cents (1 inch binder) While the dollar store binder is once again cheaper, it’s apparent at first glance that you’re getting a low-quality, flimsy binder compared to the Corner Office brand binder at the drugstore. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    3” X 5” Index Cards
  • 3” X 5” Index Cards

    Drug Store Price: $1.69 (100 cards) Dollar Store Price: 99 cents (200 cards) The drugstore carries Corner Office brand index cards, whereas the dollar store carries generic index cards. You’ll have to decide whether having that brand name is worth paying more for half the  number of cards. Photo Credit: Ethan Moore
    Composition Notebook
  • Composition Notebook

    Drug Store Price: $3.19 (80 sheets) Dollar Store Price: 99 cents (100 sheets) The composition notebooks at both stores appear virtually identical, and the dollar store notebook has an obvious price advantage: more sheets, less cash. Photo Credit: calsidyrose
    Two-Pocket Folder
  • Two-Pocket Folder

    Drug Store Price: $1.69 Dollar Store Price: 99 cents The drugstore carries a trusted name in folders, Mead, but if that doesn’t matter to you, the dollar store folder appears equally capable of holding a few sheets of paper. Photo Credit: bigmick
    Loose Leaf Filler Paper
  • Loose Leaf Filler Paper

    Drug Store Price: $1.99 (150 sheets) Dollar Store Price: 99 cents (100 sheets) These packages of looseleaf paper are both designed to fit in a three-ring binder. The drugstore paper costs an extra 33 cents per 100 sheets, but appears to be of slightly higher quality at first glance, so we’ll call this a draw. Photo Credit: Getty Images
  • Highlighters

    Drug Store Price: $4.49 (5-pack) Dollar Store Price: 99 cents (5-pack) Once again, the decision between drugstore and dollar store comes down to how much a name brand is worth to you. The drugstore we visited sells Bic highlighters, a universally-trusted name in writing implements; the dollar store brand was SRX, which we hadn’t heard of at all. Still, your kid will probably lose them before they have a chance to dry up, so we’d be inclined to go with the cheaper option. Photo Credit: liveandrock
  • Pens

    Drug Store Price: $1.99 (10-pack) Dollar Store Price: 99 cents (10-pack) Once again, the drugstore carried the Bic brand while the dollar store carried a less-recognizable brand, Witz by Flomo. We didn’t test to see which item wrote better, but the dollar store brand obviously wins on price. Photo Credit:
    Number 2 Pencils
  • Number 2 Pencils

    Drug Store Price: $2.19 (10-pack) Dollar Store Price: 99 cents (16-pack) As with many of the items we looked at, the dollar store simply gives you more for less money when it comes to number 2 pencils. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Our Conclusion
  • Our Conclusion

    The savings are substantial when you buy your school supplies at the dollar store. When quantities are standardized, we would have saved $19.28 on the 10 items listed here, which constitute just a fraction of the required items for an average middle schooler. The obvious caveat here is that we only compared price, not quality, so while in some cases a quality differential was apparent on sight, we did not test pens and pencils to see which wrote better. When MainStreet visited a dollar store earlier this year, we found some products compared well to the brand names, while others were simply junk. You’ll just have to decide whether the big savings justify the possible drop in quality. Finally, it’s worth noting that some school supplies just can’t be found at either store. If you’re looking for a Trapper Keeper, a backpack or pencil case, you’ll likely need to make a second trip to Target or Staples. And the same obviously goes for more high-tech items like graphing calculators and USB drives, both of which are becoming increasingly common on school supply lists. Photo Credit: socialwoodlands
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