Sarah Longmore, a mother of five, looked at a $25 backpack to buy for her preschooler as she finished her back-to-school shopping. She decided that her daughter could live with a hand-me-down because of the high inflation. She returned the backpack.
Many parents, regardless of their income, are finding that back-to-school dollars aren’t as much as they used to. Prices are soaring for groceries, gas, and other household necessities, causing inflation at levels that have not been seen in decades.
According to Morning Consult’s annual back-to-school shopping report, only 36% of parents claimed they could pay for all their children’s school expenses this year. This is a sharp drop from 52% in 2021 when inflation was lower. Some families were helped by stimulus checks and advance child tax credit payments.
Longmore, an HR professional living in Pennsylvania’s Poconos with her husband and five kids, said that “my shopping habits have changed significantly.”
The Longmores make more than $100,000 per year, which is well over the US median household income of close to $65,000 The family has five children and their expenses are much higher than the average. Longmore stated that it is not enough to maintain a comfortable household. This problem was magnified by the back-to-school season when four of the children are in school.
Longmore stated that not everyone can get everything. For example, the 12-year-old chose to buy new clothes rather than a backpack or stationery. The backpacks and desks of their siblings are passed on to younger children.
Other families may make similar decisions.
According to estimates by Deloitte Consulting and the National Retail Federation, parents will spend $661-864 on school supplies for K-12 in the 2022-23 academic years.
Matthew Shay, NRF President, and CEO stated that “Families regard back-to-school and college items as an essential category and they are taking whatever steps possible… to buy what they need for next school year.” He said that these sacrifices could include purchasing off-brand items or hunting for sales, and cutting down on discretionary spending.
These challenges are not uncommon for families at the start of the school year. It’s not something Longmore has ever had to deal with.
She said, “It has been at least twenty years since I had to pull back to such an extent.” “This is a very new and challenging experience for me as an adult.”
While the NRF suggests that cuts might be helpful, they may not be enough for every family to afford the school supplies their children require. This is despite retailers like Walmart (WMT), Target(TGT), Kohl’s, and others dropping prices on merchandise to reduce their overstocked inventories.
Molly Schmitz, a Wisconsin mother of four, said that she often recycles supplies from previous years as Longmore did.
Lands’ End backpacks have a lifetime warranty and she carefully plans her shopping trips. She said that she started at Target and Walmart, then moved on to Target and Walmart, even though Target has raised its prices to $1.25. However, she added that she was able to buy many supplies for her three school-aged children for $50 or less.
Longmore has been shopping at Target and Walmart more to get better prices, especially for kids’ clothing and shoes. She said that her credit card debt “is not looking great” right now.
She is not the only one.
Morning Consult has “been polling consumers every week and the thing which set off alarm bells was the spike in parents who don’t feel like they have enough money for school supplies this year,” stated Claire Tassin (a retail and e-commerce analyst with market intelligence firm).
A family with only one income or a single parent may feel particularly stressed.
Guen Corrigan, a rural Maine resident, stated that her daughter, a single mother, told her she had used thrift stores to find clothes and shoes and bought food for lunches. Corrigan then asked her daughter about school supplies. She wrote that it was obvious that her daughter had not considered this in her budget.
Corrigan bought $140 worth of supplies for her granddaughter and she said that she was glad to help her hardworking daughter. She worries about school kids without a grandparent.
Teachers are concerned that they can adequately prepare their classrooms to welcome the new academic year. Many people end up spending their own money, while those living in low-income areas often buy items for their students.
Cynthia Angell, a sixth-grade teacher, lives in Tracy, California. She finds it harder to provide financial support for her students, who are overwhelmingly low-income. “I have provided school supplies for students in the past. Angell stated that she will not be able this year to provide school supplies.
Angell expressed hope that families with the means to donate school supplies. However, Angell stated that parents may be limited in their ability to help and she is concerned about students from low-income families.
Angell stated, “So, do I limit our equity-related activities, or do we beg for assistance, or do you give up your own needs to help students?” Angell said, “I think the answer to all three is yes.”
Longmore, the Poconos mother, sees the silver lining in sacrificing and scrimping: “I believe it will build character, teach my children how to reduce waste, and keep a budget.”