It’s a brand new school year with brand new supply lists for parents to hunt down before the first class begins.
It’s not just books and pencils that parents need to worry about.
How about those sheet protectors, hypo-allergenic facial tissues, 3-prong folders, and even gallon-sized bags? Are ballooning back-to-school prices pinching your budget?
Back-to-school spending is supposed to reach the second-highest level ever, according to the National Retail Federation, which since 2003 has tracked annual costs in a survey by Prosper Insights & Analytics.
American parents are expected to pay $29.5 billion this fall on back-to-school shopping, averaging $668 per child. More than half plan to do their deal-hunting at a department store.
To get a feel for how much parents are being asked to spend, we did some price-hunting of our own at a local big box store running back-to-school specials.
We took first grade supply lists from Amherst, Wellington, and Oberlin to see how they would add up.
Students are being asked to provide Clorox wipes, Ziploc bags, and Kleenex — and brand names only spike the cost. Our in-store comparison found that choosing an off-brand disinfecting wipe saves you 65 cents.
It isn’t chump change in the long run. Swapping items like Crayola for Cra-Z-Art and Expo for Pen+Gear would save Oberlin students $7.81, Wellington students $8, and Amherst students a whopping $21.11 total.
Technology is another culprit behind the increasing cost.
Both Wellington and Amherst are asking students to purchase a set of headphones with ear cushions — no earbuds allowed. The only pair we found was $4.88, but Amherst asks for the brand Koss, which we found online for double the price.
Wording plays a role, too. Oberlin’s list says to purchase 48 No.2 pencils “made in the USA.”
Choose a box of pencils that has “made in the USA” slapped across the cover and you’ll pay $7.88, but choose one with the text modestly written in a small font on the back, and the cost drops to $2.82.
Another sky-high cost on Oberlin’s list is two packs of Post-it notes. A pack of 450 costs $4.44, making two packs $8.88.
Even generic sticky notes won’t save you much money — 400 for $4.88. Slice that price in half by grabbing two 90-count packs of Post-it notes for $2.
Oberlin’s list is the only one that has a white cotton T-shirt ($2.97), folders (75 cents total), and a backpack ($9.88 to $14.88). Nearly seven in 10 shoppers plan to purchase a brand new backpack this year rather than reusing one they already own.
All three lists ask for a pack of thin dry erase markers. Only Oberlin and Amherst suggest Expo for $3.97, which includes red, green, blue, and black. None of the lists specify colors, so buying Pen+Gear instead, which is black only, for $1.88 is a better bang for your buck.
Glue sticks also bear a high price tag, and unlike liquid glue, which you can find for 25 cents, Elmer’s glue sticks don’t have an off-brand lookalike. Twenty glue sticks for Wellington students adds up to $7.31.
A six-pack of Elmer’s glue is $2.27 and a two-pack is 50 cents. You’re better off buying a combination because buying solely two-count packs will cost you $10.
It’s a smart idea not to follow the lists too precisely. If you buy exactly everything off Amherst’s list, be prepared to spend close to $50 per kid in stores.
Amherst is working with SchoolKidz, a Staples company, to provide parents with the option of purchasing the school supply lists online.
Ditch the label and you can find all the supplies you need for $25.22 instead.
Deal hunters will find that one pair of child safe Fiskars scissors is $2.47 in back-to-school section, but we found a collection of them for $1.47 in an aisle further down in the store — a tactic used by stores to get shoppers to spend more.
For some, snagging a few sales and buy-one-get-one deals isn’t enough to lessen the financial blow. Even with piecemeal efforts by nonprofits, many families still struggle with sending their kids to school fully packed.
In many cases, teachers help fill the gap and wind up paying out of pocket for supplies. The Education Market Association says on average, most spent $500 or more and school supply costs are shifted from parents or cash-strapped districts onto teachers themselves.
Many schools in Lorain County are receiving less federal funding this year.
Greg Ring, superintendent of the Educational Service Center, said grade levels publish a collective list, but supplies vary from teacher to teacher. He suggests purchasing minimal supplies to get the year started.
“Find out what items are really needed, the ones that are real essential for learning. Ask the teacher. ‘How soon will my child need this item in the class?’ and then purchase things over time,” he said.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.