Back to School: Teacher-Approved Supplies

As exciting as a new school year is, it can also be stressful for many families and teachers. Parents know that raising their kids is incredibly costly, and teachers inevitably spend out of pocket for their classes (for this former teacher, it was about $500 annually).  Yes, spending is necessary this time of year, but you can send your kids to school with quality supplies that will last.  With many of our favorite stores adding more generic school supplies every year, we have created a guide to buying durable items at a lower cost. Take the Brandefy app shopping with you for more great savings.

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One of the first things you will want to pick up is disinfecting wipes.  This may not seem as important as pencils or binders, but trust us, when cold and flu season hits, you are going to be happy your teacher has a large supply of quality wipes.  Wipes that are safe on the skin are good because they can double as hand sanitizer, as well as a safe way to clean desks. We tested Walmart's equate wipes against Wet Ones.  The ingredient panels were very different, but Wet Ones includes three parabens, while equate is paraben-free. The wipes have extremely similar smells and the generic held up better on the tear test- A+ for durability.  We gave these products a similarity score of 86%.

Bonus: Send in a can of disinfecting spray for easy flu prevention... we found the Great Value version of Lysol to be 90% similar and 99% as effective.  Germs beware!

Speaking of colds, contribute some quality tissues to that classroom.  We tested Walmart's Great Value, as well as Target's up&up to Kleenex 2-ply tissues.  All tissues stood up to the water drop test, proving their durability.  Kleenex still reigned supreme on softness, but up&up's softness was 83% similar, and Great Values was 80%.  Those scores are nothing to sneeze at!

Now that we've addressed germ-prevention, it's time to get onto the more conventional supplies.  Ask any teacher their favorite brand pencil, and while they may not be able to pronounce it, they will give you some form of the name- Ticonderoga.  These babies claim to be "The World's Best Pencil," and they could be "write" about that!  We used a Walmart (Pen + Gear) pencil sharpener to sharpen up Ticonderoga, up&up, and Pen + Gear pencils.  Ticonderoga did, in fact, prove to be of the highest quality as far as having the least amount of breakage during sharpening, a difficult-to-peel-off metal eraser attachment (teachers, you know what I'm talking about), and the most effective eraser we encountered.  If you are willing to spend, we still recommend the name brand.  If you want to save, we would take the up&up pencil over Walmart's Pen + Gear.  Target's pencils come pre-sharpened and are fairly durable.  They scored an 81% similarity score to the name brand.  The Pen + Gear pencil was prone to lead splits, and despite having a similar comfort grip, reminiscent of the name brand's grip, it still scored a 55% overall score.

Top to Bottom: Ticonderoga, up & up, Pen + Gear

Top to Bottom: Ticonderoga, up & up, Pen + Gear

Speaking of writing, it's likely your child's teacher has requested Expo markers.  Expo is the brand, but what they really want are some quality dry-erase markers not only for their board but also for the mini whiteboards they will likely be passing out to each student.  Kids love having their own workspaces.  We tested all black markers because as fun as colorful markers can be when the teacher is passing out a marker to each kid, she does not want to worry about battles over the purple marker.  Both the up&up and Pen + Gear markers have more narrow tips than Expo.  All three are easy to write with, have dark ink, and last a long time without drying up.  We found the Pen + Ink marker cap the easiest to take on and off thanks to its design!

During our supply shopping, we looked through some local schools' supply lists.  Our feelings about some of the best brands were confirmed when we saw that certain schools were not simply requesting glue, but "Elmers" glue.  We understand because we know the frustration of throwing out poor quality supplies, but we also know that it's frustrating as a parent to spend so much. Up & up does make a great version of the Elmers glue stick.  The packaging is incredibly similar to the name brand, with easy twist up and down.  We even found the up&up glue smoother than the Elmers.  At 97% similar, testers agreed they would switch to save.

Mistakes will happen this school year, but kids can be armed with a big pink eraser.  We tested against the Paper-Mate Pink Pearl eraser.  Pen + Gear and up &up were the same sizes and similar shades to the Pink Pearl.  Testers also found them a little harder, and thus erased with fewer pieces flying off.  Keeping the erasers intact longer = a longer lasting eraser.  That's simple math!

Additional Target discoveries: Testers preferred the up&up scissors to Fiskars.  They are smaller in size (better for small hands) and are rubber-coated as opposed to the plastic coating of the Fiskars.  The Fiskars does come with a blade cover, which seems like a good idea to have, but teachers attest that those covers never stay on and will get lost anyway.  We also tested the up&up pocket and prong folder to the Mead Five Star.  We would NOT switch to save here.  The Mead was more durable.  We would like to take a moment to give this Public Service Announcement: Always buy the plastic folders!  The paper ones will be torn to shreds in a week.  

Your New and Improved Supply List:


  • Equate Antibacterial Hand Wipes (86% similar to Wet Wipes)
  • Great Value Disinfectant Spray (90% similar to Lysol)
  • Pen + Gear Dry Erase Markers (85% similar to Expo)
  • Pen + Gear Pink Eraser (93% similar to Paper Mate)


  • up & up 2-ply Tissues (83% similar to Kleenex)
  • up & up Glue Sticks (97%similar to Elmers)
  • up & up Scissors (88% similar to Fiskars)


Whether you get them at Walmart or Target, we still recommend you stick with Ticonderoga pencils and Mead Five Star Folders.

Best of luck to parents and teachers this back to school season.  Whether you end up like this supply-shopping mom or not, we salute you.

Dena Blizzard, we love you!

Dena Blizzard, we love you!