Will buying your school supplies in bulk always save you money?
Aug 3, 2023, 11:03 PM | Updated: 11:03 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — Inflation over the last couple of years has left many parents searching for ways to stretch our back-to-school dollars. One way often touted by shopping experts is to buy in bulk. But does it always save money?
This is a school story, so let us start with a little Econ 101: For many businesses, getting their stuff to you is their biggest logistical hurdle and often their biggest expense. That is why buying in bulk can mean discounts.
It makes sense when you factor in cardboard, packaging tape and materials and labor – folks in the warehouse, folks driving the big loads great distances and the folks who deliver orders to front doors. It does not really cost manufacturers that much more to ship lots of their product than it does to ship just one unit.
This is no great secret, of course. Just ask warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. So, with back to school in mind, let us do a little investigative shopping in the school supplies sections.
We filled our shopping carts – both in person at stores and via an online retailer – with pencils, scissors, glue, paper, notebooks and binders. Does buying in bulk save? Well, we found the answer to be “yes.” And “no.”
Take pencils for one. Buying a massive box of 150 pencils from Amazon put the per unit cost at seven cents per pencil. That is significantly cheaper than the per-unit cost of 21 cents a pencil for a 30 pack of pencils also sold on Amazon.
Sam’s Club and Walmart are part of the same corporate family. At Sam’s, we’d pay 12 cents per pencil to buy in bulk. That adds up to being three times the per-unit cost of the 12-pack of pencils we bought at Walmart.
Or take scissors for another example. Bulk pricing proved cheapest at 81 cents a pair in a bulk purchase from Amazon. But at $2.96 each, the bulk pricing at Costco was also the most expensive unit pricing of our investigative shopping trip.
Buying filler paper in bulk? Well, it came out to 2 or 3 cents per page, online. That is pretty good, until you factor in that every single physical store we visited sold paper closer to one cent per page. had the paper for sale at around one cent per page.
I won’t lie – the results surprised me a bit. I assumed buying in bulk was often going to be the cheapest option. But after a day of shopping in stores and at my computer, I truthfully found buying in bulk turned out more expensive more often than not.