When Cheap School Supplies Aren’t a Good Deal

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Back to school shopping
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

Bargain shopping is always a good thing, but there is a difference between living on the cheap and buying cheap things.

Living on the cheap means living well on less money, not living with poor quality things that don’t perform. When you’re buying school supplies and office supplies, it’s important to take a look at what is worth buying name-brand and what you should get in the dollar bin.

Here’s a look at things that just aren’t worth the money unless they’re good quality.


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If you plan to use markers more than once, it’s worth splurging for a brand you know and trust. The lowest-priced ones on the market are simply not made as well as the more popular brands such as Crayola or Roseart.

The no-name markers from dollar stores or dollar bins dry up after one or two uses, and you’ll end up spending more than you would if you simply bought the better quality markers in the first place.

Think about it: You could invest $7 for a pack of really great markers that will last at least six months, or spend $1 every time you need a marker. If you use markers more than once a year, you should splurge. That includes dry-erase markers, too.


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The only edge name-brand crayons have over the generic ones is a wider scope of colors. If you simply need the basics, go for the lowest cost. All crayons are easily breakable, and it’s better to have more on hand than to have the most recognized brand.


home office printer
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Computer paper can get expensive if you go for top-of-the-line. If you need computer paper to show projects to clients, it is best to spring for a quality sheet — but watch for coupons and deals. Staples and Office Depot regularly have sales on high-quality paper.

If you just need paper for the occasional home project, or to print out personal materials, you should look for the lowest cost. Be careful buying paper in a place other than an office supply store.

You should get at least 200 sheets of paper in a stack. Any less, at a cost of more than $3 per stack, and you may be getting ripped off. If you know you’ll be using a lot of paper, it would be wise to get a case. You can save a substantial amount on paper if you buy in bulk.


Hand writing with a pen, taking notes
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If you’re on the hunt for ballpoint pens, you don’t need to get wrapped up in a particular name brand, but you do need to watch the quantity.

Remember, you can usually get a dozen in a box for less than $2, so don’t fall into the trap of buying them individually at $1 a pop.


Child with a happy face heart eyes sticker
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Any smart dollar store manager knows that consumers love the idea of paying only a dollar for items.

A shopper may see a pack of stickers “for only a dollar” and forget that pack includes only one sheet of 30 stickers. Meanwhile, you could go to Target and get a pack of five sheets of stickers for $2.

The takeaway

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When you’re bargain shopping it’s important to be a smart consumer. Not all supplies need to be top of the line, but you need to be able to count on them to work.

Keep an eye out for coupons and sales. Living on the Cheap readers know that if you’re patient, you can get a great bargain on exactly what you need.

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