The last time we ordered materials (August) I ordered everything I didn't think I could make for periods one and two (see Gettman). I also ordered "conservatively" at that time because I wanted to see how serious we were going to be about Montessori at home. In the meantime, Kal-El has shown much evidence for being more than ready to start maths. In fact, he really enjoys counting right now and collecting different "quantities" of things. As a result, I am a little sorry I didn't order any math materials (I didn't because they were in period three). I also changed my mind about sandpaper letters and numbers. I was going to use something similar I found, but for the small price difference I realized I would much prefer the real thing. Also, since I was putting together an order I changed my mind on a couple of things I had planned to make myself because now that I have more experience I realize the hours it would take to make them wasn't worth the $5 I would save.
When I ordered in August, I made an Excel spreadsheet for everything I needed to purchase. I tracked the item prices, shipping, and total for all of the vendors I was considering. At that time I tracked Adena, Alison's, Montessori Concepts, and Montessori Outlet. At that time, Adena was by far the low price leader except on two items. On those two items, Montessori Concepts prevailed even though I would have to pay separate shipping. I cannot promise that everyone has had the same experience that I have. I will say though, that I received everything from Adena in good condition and in a timely fashion. It took three months to receive my items from Montessori Concepts and both items have had issues that have made them unusable.
This time I made yet another spreadsheet (even though this order was going to be pretty tiny) and included I-fit (otherwise knows as Montessori Equipment) in the running. At first it looked like they were going to be the leader. I filled up my shopping cart and was ready to go and then realized they are in Canada and it was going to cost more than $100 to ship my order. UHG2BK! That little development (they provide the shipping costs after you fill your cart) put Adena back in the lead.
I see Montessori Outlet touted on some of the Yahoo groups I belong to as having the lowest prices, but on both of my spreadsheets it was several hundred dollars more expensive (which in the instances of my very small orders means the price was almost double). I had the same experience with Alison's, but charted it both times because I keep hearing people rave about their prices. Yes, there were specific items that would be cheaper in one place or another but usually after I weighed in the shipping costs of procuring that item separately I would lose the savings. Another word about shipping is that it is not standard and some things are sneaky. For example, some places (including Adena) base shipping on their highly inflated "not on sale" prices. Your shipping is based on what you could have spent, rather than what you did. This is even more confusing because the prices generally remain the same. Everyplace changes the name of their sale every couple of months, says it has an "end date," but when one sale ends another begins and everything is usually the same price as it always was.
I guess what I am saying is decide what to order, make a spreadsheet, don't forget to include shipping costs, and then make a decision. I don't recommend Montessori Concepts because their product was unusable in my case.
I have a feeling there will be a lot of juicy advice in the comments on this post, so feel free to leave a comment and read the comments.