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Free and cheap school supplies
Free and cheap school supplies

ATLANTA -- This is the best time of year to buy both school supplies and office supplies.  Some things are as low as a penny, or even free after rebates!

I set out to find the best deals on a typical kindergarten or first grade supply list from Atlanta Public Schools.

I found the most convenient way to buy supplies is to order them through SchoolPak.com. The company will ship a box of required supplies to your home or school. The first grade list came to $55.34 including shipping.

I set out to see if I could find better deals in the stores. First our summer intern Katie and I went through the weekly sale flyers in search of the lowest possible prices for every item on our list.

Then, I headed out shopping with help of Jenny Martin, who founded the website Southernsavers.com. Martin compiles a yearly list of all the weekly school supply bargains well before school starts.

"We can't wait for school supply deals till the day before school starts," she explained. "School supply deals start in mid-July."

The sales change every week. Martin keeps her eye on the loss leaders: items for $1 or less, or even a penny. They are designed to draw customers into the store in hopes they will make other purchases. Martin points out printer paper and pens that are free after rebates.

"I come in, I pay for them in the store then I turn around and get the total value back in a rebate from Staples.com," she said.

She also found a great rebate deal on a Swiss Gear backpack. "This is a $100 backpack. After the rebate I'll get it for $25," she said. Martin said Staples and Office Maxs have the the lowest prices on the highest quality backpacks this school year.

But surprisingly, most items on our first grade list were less expensive at grocery stores than office supply and drug stores. Martin said this is the first year she has seen grocery stores so competitive in the school supply arena.   

"Kroger won the Crayon War," she said. "They've got crayons for 25 cents a box versus Staples that has them for $1."

Kroger also had the lowest prices for glue sticks, erasers and paper products.

At Publix we found the lowest prices on scissors, pencils and glue.

Walmart had low priced plastic folders, markers and composition books, while Target had plastic bags.

And Walgreen's had the best prices on pocket folders and dry erase markers.

Our total after spending nearly 3 hours researching and shopping was $22.21, compared to the $55.34 box we could have ordered in about 10 minutes.

Consumers may want to consider how much their time is worth, whether they enjoy shopping, and how much gas it would take to travel to several stores.

Also keep in mind some of the discounts that start on Sunday are only good through Wednesday, and many items are in limited quantities.

To see Martin's weekly compilation of school supply bargains, go to Southernsavers.com.

To order a box of supplies go to Schoolpak.com.

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