Stress-free school shopping: Is it cheaper to buy supply bundles online or go to the store?

Lauren Verno finds it might be better to go shopping in person if you want to save some money

For Stress Free School Shopping, Lauren Verno finds out if it is a better deal to buy pre-packaged bundles online, or to grab your lists and head to the store.

Being a parent is hard enough, but most parents would agree back-to-school shopping adds a new level of stress.

“You have a long list, and you can’t find it and it’s just a lot,” said mother Ernestine Goodman.

If you are planning to brave the crowds for supplies, the next week would be the time to do it.

Florida’s back-to-school sales tax holiday starts Saturday, July 31, and runs through Monday, Aug, 9.

READ MORE: Florida back-to-school tax break teed up as students return to classrooms | FULL LIST: What’s eligible for the back-to-school sales tax holiday

The list of tax-exempt items includes clothing, shoes, and certain accessories for $60 or less per item, school supplies for $15 or less per item, and the first $1,000 for a personal computer and certain computer-related accessories.

In addition to saving money through the sales tax holiday, we wanted to see if you could save some extra dollars by bundling supplies.

I found two bundles on Amazon: one that had 32 pieces designed for grades K-5 for $29.99 and a 51-piece set for secondary school essentials for $37.99.

We grabbed three different school supply lists from three different counties: Argyle Elementary School in Clay County, Fletcher Middle School in Duval County and Fruit Cove Middle School in St. Johns County.

Just off the bat, the bundles didn’t have every single item on each list. While the bundle for Fletcher Middle was only missing two items, the other two lists were missing significantly more.

Now to the hard work: I put on my mom hat for the day and got started shopping for my three imaginary children, and let’s just say I am not a parent myself (yet), but I do not envy any parent or caregiver that must do this every year.

For convenience alone, I could see how a bundle can be tempting -- which is exactly what Goodman said she’s going to end up doing for most of her supplies.

But is it worth it? Let’s compare the numbers.

Comparing prices

Let’s start with the fifth grade student at Argyle Elementary. I priced every item on the list and was able to buy all the supplies without a backpack for a grand total of $21.04. Don’t forget, with the sales tax holiday, that’s the final number. Compare that to the $29.99 for the bundle, and I still had to pick up five items from the store.

Next was a sixth grade student at Fletcher Middle. I bought all the items tax-free without a backpack for $21.47. Compare that to the $37.99 for the bundle, however, it was only missing headphones from the bundle.

Last was an eighth grade student at Fruit Cove Middle. Buying the items, my total was $34.88 without a backpack. It was still cheaper than the $37.99 bundle, and I still needed to pick up seven items from the store.

In the end, buying in person ended up being cheaper every time. But in the case of one bundle, I was only missing one item.

We found the headphones for just $5. By the way, headphones were the one item that wasn’t in any bundle but was on every list I found in Clay, Duval and St. Johns counties.