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Inflation makes back to school shopping difficult for families

Rising prices mean Longmont families are cutting back to cover the costs of school items
School supplies - Getty
(Getty Images)

To Donna Gritzo it seemed that buying school supplies this year only got her family about a third of what they needed using the same amount as last year’s budget.

With five school aged children, the prospect of back to school clothes shopping is another expense they’ll have to hurdle.

“Inflation has definitely been an issue from blueberry muffins to backpacks,” Gritzo said. “... I personally have had to reach out to programs offering assistance this year.”

Over the 12 months ending in June 2022, the Consumer Price Index increased by 9.1%, the largest 12-month increase since November 1981. With the school year quickly approaching, families like Gritzo’s are facing rising prices during the second-most significant shopping season of the year.

According to the National Retail Federation, one-third of consumers said they are cutting back on other spending areas to cover the cost of items for the upcoming school year. Families expect to spend more per person on K-12 items this year, according to the survey.

“Families consider back-to-school and college items as an essential category, and they are taking whatever steps they can, including cutting back on discretionary spending, shopping sales and buying store- or off-brand items, in order to purchase what they need for the upcoming school year,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a release. “The back-to-school season is among the most significant shopping events for consumers and retailers alike, second only to the winter holiday season.”

The National Retail Federation said back-to-school spending is expected to match 2021’s record high of $37 billion. Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 on school items, about $168 more than 2019, the survey found.

A majority of survey respondents also said they have noticed the higher prices on school items, with clothing, accessories and school supplies among the top areas where consumers have noticed higher prices.

“It is especially difficult because back to school shopping is just one of the areas inflation is kicking our butt,” Gritzo said. “We are also experiencing the pinch with groceries, gas and even trying to purchase a vehicle. Inflation is killing American families.”

For Christy Douglass, who has twins age 12, while shopping for school supplies is never cheap, the experience has taken on a different meaning post-pandemic.

She recalls two years ago, when her kids were in the fourth grade, and all schools shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Douglass had to go pick up her children’s school supplies through a socially distanced appointment during the early weeks of that uncertain time.

“When we got the school supplies, who would have thought that it would end up with school ending in March and all their stuff just tossed in a black trash bag,” she said.

Her young kids thought they weren’t going to be able to go back to school for years and felt devastated. Now in middle school, her twins have a different view on school, but are excited to see their friends again.

That’s what she keeps in mind as she navigates the rising prices.

“It’s expensive. It’s not always fun, but I think of that day and I’m just happy to shop for school supplies because I just remember how crushed they were,” Douglass said.