Where to find the best back to school bargains

For many kids, the start of school brings the excitement of shopping for school supplies. So where do you get the best prices on all these supplies?

"Stores lure you in with great deals, like pencils for a penny. But you have to be careful or you could wind up paying too much for the other items on your list," said Jody Rohlena with ShopSmart Magazine.

ShopSmart magazine wanted to know which stores had the best everyday deals, and sent secret shoppers to check prices at Office Depot, Staples, Target and Walmart. And the bargains weren't always where you would expect.

"You might think an office-supply store is the best place to go, but often it wasn't," said Jody Rohlena.

In fact, Staples and Office Depot tied for the highest prices on most items. Store-brand, two-pocket folders at Staples cost a $1.01, compared to Walmart's 48 cents. How about notebooks? Mead, Five-Star, one-subject notebooks at Staples go for $6.02 but Walmart's got 'em for $2.76. And loose-leaf paper? Norcom brand packages of 150 sheets at Office Depot were $3.01. Go to Walmart, and you'll pay just 82 cents.

"Walmart had the least-expensive prices on the most items. And in many cases, Target was right behind them," said Rohlena.

ShopSmart says as a general rule look for store brands. They can save you nearly 75 percent. ShopSmart also suggests asking for a price match if you see a better deal somewhere else. Office Depot, Staples, Target, and Walmart all have price-matching policies. Just bring an ad to the store from your local paper, or call it up on your smart phone to get the better price.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2011. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

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