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KSL Investigators Shop Five Retailers To Find Least Expensive Back-To-School Essentials

SALT LAKE CITY — Summer is coming to a close, which means it’s time to get students ready for the new school year.

Alas, getting Utah’s children prepared for school inevitably means parents opening their wallets, and the back-to-school shopping can really add up.

In fact, the National Retail Federation predicts parents will set a record for back-to-school spending this year at $37.1 billion. Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend $849, though that includes things like clothes, shoes and electronics. So, the KSL Investigators went shopping to see how we can save families some money on the classroom basics.

We shopped at big box stores Walmart and Target, and we strolled down the aisles in a neighborhood grocery store, Smith’s. We also hit a place that advertises frugalness in their name: Dollar General.

We had one rule: get everything on our list spending as little as possible.

Now everything we got was pretty basic but no question: The prices differences were vast.

Take binders for instance: Our list called for three. We paid $3 at Walmart, $7.50 at Dollar General and $10.50 at both Target and Smith’s. That’s a 350% difference from cheapest to most expensive.

Another essential, backpacks, had some wide-ranging costs. At Walmart and Dollar General, we paid $5 for the cheapest. Smith’s was $10 and we spent $12 at Target.

Water bottles also had some fluid costs: $1 at Walmart, $5 at Dollar General, $8 at Target and $10 at Smith’s. We paid ten times more at Smith’s for a water bottle than we did at Walmart.

Scientific calculators’ costs were in the same ballpark, about $10. But uh oh — Dollar General does not sell scientific calculators.

At the end of the day, Walmart was the easiest on our boss’ credit card: $27.87. But it was not the cheapest by much. It beat Dollar General’s $28.15 price tag by just $0.28. But again, no scientific calculator, so you’d have to add about $10 plus a drive to another store to complete the list. The total cost at Smith’s was $47.94 and Target proved priciest at $51.02.

So mega-retailer Amazon must have the best deals on school supplies, right? Well, our list priced out at $49 on items available on Amazon Prime for fast and free delivery — our second priciest overall. But Amazon sells a lot of school supplies in bulk, something you could split the cost with other parents.

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