Florida mom Catherine Russo says “intense” is the only word to describe rising back-to-school prices as her son prepares to start first grade in a Palm Beach County public school.
Ms. Russo, 41, spent $200 on required supplies and $150 on clothing for him to attend kindergarten last year. This summer, she skipped sending the 7-year-old to summer camp and bought hand-me-down school uniforms to save money. She’s also hosting playdates to avoid going to water parks.
“Inflation is crazy right now,” Ms. Russo told The Washington Times. “I’m noticing it mostly with groceries. I used to buy a lot of individual-portioned snacks for convenience, but now I buy full boxes and split them into Ziploc baggies.”
Ms. Russo is among the throngs of moms bargain-hunting and trimming back-to-school budgets this summer because cooling inflation has not stopped retail prices from rising.
Several recent surveys tell the story:
• In a poll released Thursday, 83% of parents told personal finance website WalletHub.com that education costs are “out of control,” with nearly half expecting to spend more on back-to-school shopping.
• Financial service company Empower and Florida-based market researcher Fractl reported this week that 85% of K-12 parents responding to a survey last month said inflation was affecting their school supply spending. Four in 10 planned to shop at a discount or dollar store.
• A typical basket of 33 school items listed on Amazon jumped in cost by 5.45% over the past year, from $506.53 to $515.48, outpacing the most recent annual inflation numbers for all goods, market researcher Pattern reported July 20.
According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index for all items minus food and energy shot up 4.8% year over year in June.
New Jersey mom Amy Edwards, an editor at Fractl, is budgeting just $300 for back-to-school expenses after spending $600 last summer.
Her two children will not get new backpacks, shoes or clothing as they start the sixth and ninth grades in public schools.
“Money still feels like it’s going out faster than normal,” Ms. Edwards, 40, told The Times. “We’ve noticed a dip in prices recently for some things, but everything is still too high.”
Financial experts say families will spend more on school supplies this summer because they’re paying more for the same things they bought last year.
Additionally, more parents are using credit cards for purchases and some are buying more high-end electronics due to pandemic-era policy changes requiring smart devices for school.
According to Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis data, U.S. credit card debt swelled to a record-high $993 billion this month, and consumer prices have risen 16% since January 2021.
The National Retail Federation estimates that parents of K-12 students will spend a record-high $41.5 billion on school supplies this year, averaging $890.07 per family. That’s up more than $4 billion from $36.9 billion last year and from the previous high of $31.7 billion, measured in 2021.
In a webinar on Monday, Katherine Cullen, NRF vice president of industry and consumer insights, discussed the estimate, based on an annual survey of parents’ expected spending.
“We see for back to school a relatively strong increase in expected spending on electronics over last year, and that’s even more stark when we compare it to 2019,” Ms. Cullen said. “We know the pandemic changed a lot when it came to learning environments and when it came to the types of products people needed.”
The NRF found 43% of parents surveyed this summer said they’re spending more because they need more new items for school, up from 32% last year.
Other analysts say parents could spend much less than they estimated to the NRF as they prioritize groceries over school.
Florida mom Thandi Loney, human resource director at Fractl, said she’s “shopping smarter” and “more creatively” for school supplies because the prices for her groceries and household supplies are double what they cost last year.
She expects to spend $380 as her two children start preschool and second grade in Delray Beach public schools this fall. That’s down from the $450 she spent last summer.
“I’ve been on the lookout for sales and opted to go for the less expensive brands,” Ms. Loney, 38, told The Times. “The effects of the rising costs have slightly cooled down, but still, I feel a hole in my pocket from month to month.”
High food and gas prices have eaten into the savings of many families the past three years, reducing the money they have for school supplies as their wages remain stagnant.
Relief is slow in coming because inflation remains higher than pre-2021 levels and has yet to hit the Federal Reserve’s target rate of 2% as interest rates keep rising, said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst for WalletHub.
“It will definitely take time for these effects to filter through the entire economy,” Ms. Gonzalez said in an email.
“That means parents might still deal with price increases in child care products, health care and groceries,” she added. “On top of that, if wages don’t increase at a rate that keeps up with inflation, parents’ purchasing power may still be affected, even if the inflation rate goes lower.”