Parents struggling with inflation: ‘I left this $25 backpack for my preschooler at checkout.’
“My buying habits have changed significantly,” said Longmore, a human resources professional who lives in the Poconos, Pennsylvania with her husband and five children.
Longmore earns over $100,000, well above the median US household income of nearly $65,000. But she said that wasn’t enough to comfortably run her large household – a problem highlighted at the start of the school year, as four of the couple’s five children are of school age.
“Not everyone has acquired everything, [and] not everyone could get it all,” Longmore said. The 12-year-old chose new clothes instead of a new backpack and stationery, for example. The youngest inherit the backpacks and desks of their siblings who still have life in them.
Other families are likely making similar decisions.
Parents are expected to spend about $661 to $864 on K-12 school supplies for the 2022-23 school year, according to estimates from consulting firm Deloitte and the National Retail Federation.
“Families view back-to-school and college items as an essential category, and they are taking whatever steps they can … to purchase what they need for the upcoming school year,” said the president and CEO. NRF executive Matthew Shay. Those sacrifices can include buying off-brand items, seeking sales and cutting discretionary spending, he said.
Some families still face these challenges at the start of the school year. But that’s not something Longmore is used to.
“It’s been at least 20 years since I had to back down to this point,” she said. “It’s a new and humbling experience for me as an adult.”
Molly Schmitz, a mother of four from Wisconsin, said she frequently recycles supplies from the previous year, as Longmore did.
She is hardly alone.
Morning Consult has “surveyed consumers every two weeks and what has set off alarm bells for me is the rise in parents who don’t feel like they can afford all the school supplies this year” , said Claire Tassin, a retail and e-commerce analyst at the market data intelligence firm.
Single-earner or single-parent families may feel particularly rushed.
Guen Corrigan, who lives in rural Maine, said her daughter – a single mother – told her she had bought clothes and shoes at thrift stores and bought food for lunches. But when Corrigan asked her about school supplies, “it was clear my daughter had overlooked this in her budget,” she wrote in an emailed comment to CNN Business.
Corrigan stepped in and bought $140 worth of supplies for her granddaughter and said she was happy to help her hard-working daughter. But she worries about schoolchildren who don’t have grandparents to help them.
Beyond parents, teachers are also concerned about being able to adequately prepare their classes for the start of the school year. Many end up spending their own money on supplies, and those in lower-income neighborhoods often purchase items for their students.
Sixth-grade teacher Cynthia Angell, who lives in Tracy, Calif., finds herself less able to financially help her class of low-income students. “For the past few years, I’ve provided students with school supplies. This year, I won’t be able to do that,” Angell said in an email to CNN Business.
She hopes families with the means will donate school supplies, “but I think parents are also limited in how much they can help,” Angell said, adding that she fears the problems will disproportionately affect students from low-income families.
“So do I limit what we do out of fairness, or do I ask for help, or do I give up on my own needs to help students?” said Angell. “I guess the answer is yes for all three.”
Longmore, the Poconos’ mother, tries to see the silver lining of harm and sacrifice: “I think it’s going to build character and teach my kids to cut waste and stick to their budget.”