Saving Money on School Supplies at the Dollar Store

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by the author of What School Should Have Taught You: 75 Skills You’ll Actually Use in Life

A new semester is starting up for students across America, and new courses mean it’s often times to buy new school supplies. I wanted to see if you could just buy all of the school supplies that you would ever need from the Dollar Store rather than from Staples, OfficeMax, Target, or some other store where they tend to run on the more expensive side.

Here are the basic school supplies we’ll be looking at.

When it comes to school supplies, most students need the following:

  • Highlighters
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Composition notebooks
  • 3-ring binders
  • 8×11 notebook paper
  • 3×5 notecards
  • Backpack

We’ll assume that you’re taking seven courses this upcoming semester – a fairly common course load – and that you’ll need a separate notebook, binder, notecards, and paper for every single class.

So, you need seven composition notebooks, seven 3-ring binders, seven packs of notebook paper, and seven packs of 3×5 notecards for studying for tests and quizzes, as well as a backpack to haul it all around in.

The first question we then have to ask is this: can we even find all of these things at the local Dollar Store?


I found them all there.

I already know that the more expensive retail stores have them as well, so I wasn’t concerned about that.

What about the quality of the school supplies, though?

Personally, over the years, I’ve found that I actually prefer the quality of composition notebooks from the Dollar Store compared to the big box retailers. The covers of those at major retailers have gotten flimsy to the point that they’re worthless, whereas the Dollar Store still has some heft to its cover.

When it comes to paper, notecards, or 3-ring binders, to me, any differences in quality here are negligible. Unless you’re working on an art project, paper is paper. You can scribble chemistry notes on a sheet of inexpensive paper or on a sheet of expensive paper. The end result is you staring at chemistry notes on a sheet of paper. Choose the cheap paper.

If you’re an art major, then paper is your medium, and you’re going to need to invest in something that works. If you’re not an art major and are just trying to make it till summertime, just get cheap paper. (Here are some money-saving tips for artists.)

The same goes for notebooks, binders, and folders. It doesn’t really matter what brand you buy, it’s going to be pretty beat up by the end of the year. You can spend big box money on this beat-up gear or you can spend dollar store money on this beat-up gear. Again, choose the dollar store variety.

There are times when it is most certainly worth spending the extra cash for quality, but school supplies aren’t it. You need to think utilitarian here. Does it accomplish its purpose? Does it give you a surface to write notes, enable you to mark stuff up, or hold papers together? Then go ahead and throw it in the cart. Don’t waste your money.

Pencils, pens, and highlighters

I’m a bit of a pen snob, and I don’t think there’s any denying that you’re going to be able to find higher-quality goods at the big box store in this department. If you’re just looking for something that will mark, though, this is a good place to look.

Regular #2 pencils can easily be found here at the dollar store, as can Bic mechanical pencils. The pens you’ll normally find are the Bic-style ballpoint with a cap. A single pack of these will easily last you the next semester and beyond unless you’re that guy who sits in the back row and draws on his arm the whole class.

The one piece of school gear I wouldn’t skimp on…

There is one particular item I think you should go ahead and pay good money for quality on: the backpack.

I think there are a number of reasons for this.

For starters, a quality backpack will decrease your risk of developing back pain at some point throughout the year. That alone, I think, is worth it.

Next, if you actually put a little bit of money down for this, you’ll have a piece of gear that can literally last you 10+ years, making this a one-and-done purchase (I think they have some type of lifetime warranty as well). Personally, I would recommend Jansport here. The stuff those guys make is tough as nails. If you end up buying some off-brand bag, you’re going to end up with something that’s falling apart at the seams by the end of the school year.

Do you buy school supplies at the dollar store?

What do you think about all this, though?  Do you think it’s worth it to try to save money on school supplies at the dollar store, or is the question of quality too big of an issue to even consider doing such? Are there some things you’ll get at the dollar store and others you won’t? Let us know what your thoughts are in the comment section.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to and Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught You, The Faithful Prepper An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

Saving Money on School Supplies at the Dollar Store
Aden Tate

Aden Tate

About the Author Aden Tate has a master’s in public health and is a regular contributor to,,,,, and Along with being a freelance writer he also works part-time as a locksmith. Aden has an LLC for his micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has two published books, The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American at Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

4 thoughts on “Saving Money on School Supplies at the Dollar Store”

  1. Thanks for the linkback! I agree with your assessments. I agree with you about pens, though I’ve occasionally seen higher end writing pens there too if I look at the right time. So it’s a possiblity.

    If I were just talking about basic school supplies, I agree that about the only thing I wouldn’t buy there is the backpack. If you like little extras you can also get cute stickers and fun erasers, rulers, pencil cases and whatnot, so the kidlets don’t have to feel completely bereft. I’ve even seen neat locker accessories! Great article.

  2. We did the same with supplies, and you are right. We bought the backpacks at a sporting goods store and did pay more for quality. However, they lasted longer and looked better than the cheap ones.

  3. Doing an inventory of what is left at the end of the school year also decreases the amount of cash outlay. I gave my kids a financial incentive (we’re not talking much but if you are teaching your kids good financial habits it works). I exempted items such as gym shoes as feet do grow and any usual life left from a pair that fit were worn over the summer.
    As you say for most basic items, paper is paper, #2 pencil is a pencil.

  4. For pre-high school students:
    I recommend against wood pencils and crayons from the dollar store. Most of the pencils are made in China and often the graphite isn’t centered, so it makes a mess trying to sharpen. Sometimes you can sharpen it down to nothing simply trying to get a point. In addition, I only buy American made pencils (check the package for Made in America; sometimes they have an American name or were previously made in U.S.A. but aren’t any longer) because they have a softer lead and make a darker mark more easily. It’s very frustrating trying to write with a hard lead, even if they all say #2. American-made pencils cost more, but just as you’re saying about the backpacks, the same thing goes for pencils.

    And really cheap crayons are like trying to color with a candle.

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