What’s cheaper, DIY or pre-packed school supplies?

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Students across the Mid-South are getting ready to head back to the classroom and according to the National Retail Federation, the average family will spend more than $600 on clothes, electronics, and school supplies.

WREG wanted to know if it's cheaper for parents to buy supplies on their own, or order a pre-packed box.

Long school supply lists and a short amount of time to shop means parents are making their way through the aisles at Mid-South stores.

"Hopefully we're going to beat the rush and be able to get everything," said Amy Williams as we spoke with her at an area Walmart store.

"This our first round of shopping that we're doing now," said Sharita Phillips.

Saving both time and money is critical. Savvy shoppers seem to have a method for the madness.

Nancy Stallins was shopping with her grandson Austin.

"My son said he saved a lot of their supplies from last year."

"I looked at the flyers, I found things for a penny, these sales are great," said Betsy McCurry, who is a mother of three.

One concept that continues to gain popularity is pre-packed school supplies.

Due to scheduling, Williams won't be able to pick up her daughter's box at registration, so it's the first time in a while that she's shopped on her own. She told WREG she prefers the pre-packed box.

"It's very convenient to do it that way and everything is always there and you're not sort of on a wild goose chase at the last minute trying to get all your school supplies."

Participating schools typically post a link online where parents can place an order.

The boxes, ranging in price from around $40 to more than $60, are packed and ready for pick-up at school.

Williams added, "From my experience, it actually has come out just a little bit cheaper that way."

On the other hand, McCurry said, "Have done that in the past, but I feel like it's a little bit cheaper to buy on my own."

WREG decided to put that to the test!

We picked a supply list for a fourth grade boy in Desoto County, which offers pre-packed supplies through two local vendors.

There were the traditional crayons, pencils, and paper on our list, plus other items like hand sanitizer, tissue, and plastic storage bags.

The list included more than 20 items and in some cases required multiples.

For consistency, if the list specified a brand preference, that's what we bought.

Our grand total with tax at Walmart was $65.79.  The same pre-packed box is $70.61 through Knowledge Tree and $70.88 through Skinner, so we saved roughly $5 by shopping for the supplies ourselves.

Robin Johnson of Skinner says they price the products to the schools and the schools (or systems) actually set the price.

Many schools use it as a fundraiser.  Skinner also employs local high school and college students, as well as a number of physically challenged adults, to pack the boxes.

"Nobody makes a huge margin on it, it's not about, for the profit so much, it's more for the parent to get the product that the teachers want," explained Johnson.

One example would be hard to find art products.  In fact, Johnson says those items alone could send parents to specialty stores, which could easily drive up the cost of supplies. So in some cases, Johnson said, their box would be cheaper.

Williams told WREG, "More than anything it's just the convenience."

While others say they save cash by shopping on their own, and let their kids have a little fun too.

Stallins said of her grandson, "He likes picking out his stuff. "

McCurry also added, "I definitely get the choice of cuter patterns for my girls."

Parents planning to order the pre-packed boxes may be out of time. Skinner stopped taking orders online the week of July 7th.

However, keep in mind that some of the schools ordered extra boxes, so parents might be able to simply purchase one at registration.

Also, be careful who you order from online. WREG also heard about parents who didn't get their supplies on time last school year.

If you go the DIY route, look at store circulars, compare prices and ask stores to price match the best deals.


  • hugh jazzol

    id like to know why supply list will vary from school to school in the same district? a 7th grader in one school will have a completely different list from the same grade in the same district

    • donaknowsitall

      I seriously doubt if the list is completely different. Some things maybe but not all of it. Besides who really cares. If your child needs what is on his/her list then they need it, end of story.

Comments are closed.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.