Back-to-school time has become its own shopping season, second only to Christmas in terms of family expenditures. The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects record spending for 2019, with parents spending an average of $696 per child (elementary through high school) to go back to school, while the Huntington Bank Backpack Index estimates costs will exceed $1,000.
If your child is going to college, the NRF estimates that you’ll spend around $976 on supplies.
That’s as much as an average mortgage payment, and each year costs continue to outpace inflation. Multiply this amount by two or three (or five) children, and it’s easy to see why many parents start sweating in mid-July when the barrage of back-to-school fliers and ads start appearing.
Whether your kids start kindergarten this fall or head off to college, you can buy them everything they need without breaking your bank account. Let’s look at 16 strategies to help you become a savvy back to-school-shopper this year.
Note: These strategies apply to K-12 students. If you’re shopping for a college student, check out these ways to save money on college back-to-school shopping.
The Rising Cost of Back-to-School Supplies
According to a survey conducted by the nonprofit organization Junior Achievement USA, 60% of parents say it’s challenging to afford back-to-school supplies. And it’s no wonder; the Huntington Bank Backpack Index shows that even parents of elementary school students are footing a higher bill each year. I found that Office products are usually the best deal, just take a look to this mohawk superfine paper offer.
Parents report that even elementary-aged children are being asked to occasionally submit assignments digitally, while these requests are now far more frequent for middle and high school-aged students. For the first time, this year Huntington Bank added the cost of a laptop and Internet to the basic school supplies list for even young children, raising average costs to over $1,000.
The costs break down as follows:
- $1,017 for elementary school students – a 35% increase from 2018
- $1,277 for middle school students – a 22% increase from 2018
- $1,668 for high school students – an 11% increase from 2019
These numbers are based on a list of classroom supplies and fees (which include extracurricular fees for activities such as sports and band) from 26 states, with the cost of these supplies based on moderately priced options from big-box retailers. Why are these costs on the rise?
More Classroom Supplies
Today, parents are being asked to contribute more of the supplies that schools used to be responsible for providing. For example, many districts ask parents to contribute scissors, paper, crayons, glue, facial tissue, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes. Due to budget cuts, schools simply don’t have the money for these basic supplies.
For example, take a look at these back-to-school lists for first- through fifth-grade students in Indiana. Many of these supplies used to be contributed by the school itself. This puts parents on a tight budget in a difficult situation because if they don’t contribute these supplies, the teacher typically has to pay for them.
Citing data from the Department of Education, The New York Times reports that 94% of teachers report spend their own money on school supplies. TIME magazine reports that most teachers spend $500 of their own money on classroom supplies each year, and many spend more than $1,000.
Remember when you could just sign up for softball or baseball, and all you had to buy was your own jersey with your name on it? Those days are long gone.
The cost of extracurricular activities is another reason going back to school is so expensive, and you can point the finger for this at – you guessed it – budget cuts. Citing research from Utah State University, TIME magazine states that parents now spend an average of $2,292 on their children’s sports. Financial consulting firm Mass Mutual reports that parents spend, on average, $100 to $500 per month, per child, to participate in elite sports, with the bulk of that going towards travel and participation fees.
Some sports are shockingly expensive. For example, here are the average yearly costs for some of the most popular middle school and high school sports:
- Basketball: $1,143
- Soccer: $1,472
- Football: $2,739
- Baseball/Softball: $4,044
- Hockey: $7,013
- Lacrosse: $7,956
Of course, these numbers represent the average costs for fees and equipment per child per year. If your child’s team has to travel for tournaments or playoffs, you’ll have to pay for those expenses too. These often include airfare, hotel, meals, and fees and dues for tournament participation.
The Washington Post reports that participation in school sports has declined almost 8% over the last decade, and one of the biggest reasons is the astronomical cost.
Many middle- and lower-class families simply can’t afford to have multiple children playing sports, and as a result, the participation in school sports is becoming a class issue separating the “haves” and the “have-nots.” The Washington Post also reports that kids from families earning less than $25,000 participate in sports at half the rate of kids from families earning $100,000 or more.
How to Save on Back-to-School Supplies
If you’re stressed out about this upcoming drain on your bank account, take a deep breath. There are plenty of ways to not spend $1,000 per child this back-to-school season. If you start early and plan ahead, you can put your kids on a bus for a fraction of this amount.
Keep in mind that back-to-school sales start a bit earlier each year. Staples now puts out its back-to-school section in late June, with many items already on sale to entice parents to buy. You can save by purchasing one or two items at a time throughout the summer. Spreading your purchases out this way can also avoid a huge hit to your monthly budget.