Tech Needs Drive Up Average Back-to-School Supply Costs

Families with students in grades one through 12 plan to spend an average of $696.70 on back-to-school supplies in 2019, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, America's biggest retail trade group.

by Daniel Axelrod, The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. / September 5, 2019

 (TNS) Andrew Schaffner knows how his family can save on school supplies before he begins the eighth grade on Wednesday at Cornwall Middle School.

He could just "not go to school," the 13-year-old New Windsor resident suggested, after shopping on Tuesday with his mother, Melanie, at Office Depot in the Town of Newburgh.
 
With Americans projected to set per-student spending records this year, some mid-Hudson parents and teachers say they're beleaguered by ballooning back-to-school costs.
 
Families with students in grades one through 12 plan to spend a per-student average of $696.70 on back-to-school supplies in 2019, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, America's biggest retail trade group.
 
The NRF's 2019 projection is up 1.7 percent, from $684.79 last year, and 1.2 percent from the record of $688.62 in 2012.
 
The back-to-school shopping season is America's second-biggest, behind only the winter holidays, according to various retail analyses.
 
"They make you feel like you have to buy everything, but there's so much left over, and half the stuff is so unnecessary," Melanie Schaffner said. "This year they want six binders, a stylus, ear buds, Post-it notes."
 
"Who uses Post-it notes in junior high? It's ridiculous. There are families that can't afford all this. His school bag just gets heavier and heavier."
 
The NRF projects even higher average per-student spending for those in college, because they buy more technology and a wider array supplies such as bedding.
 
The average college student will spend $976.78 for supplies this year, up 3.6 percent from $942.17 last year, and nearly 1 percent more than the 2017 record of $969.88, according to NRF.
 
Experts, educators and parents attribute the average per-student spending increase estimates to:
 
  • teachers defraying costs not covered by school districts, including for low-income students and communal classroom supplies, which educators often buy out-of-pocket;
     
  • more standardized lessons and tests, and a greater emphasis on reading, math, science, technology and engineering, including tying teachers' assessments to exams. More work means more supplies;
     
  • economic strength, low unemployment and high consumer confidence;
     
  • the greater convenience and the rising popularity of online shopping and digital deal-hunting, including internet sales days and supply ordering directly connected to schools' lists. The shopping experience makes it easier to spend more.
"I think we're buying for people without supplies," said Natasha Smith, as her daughter Cassandra Smith, 6, leaned against a rack on Tuesday at Office Depot.
 
Cassandra Smith, who's entering the second grade this week in the Wappingers school district, donned an olive green "llamas gonna lam" t-shirt, and a leopard print skirt.
 
She grinned, discussing her love of animals. Natasha Smith grimaced, talking about markers.
 
"I don't understand why we need five packages of Ticonderoga pencils, two packages of Crayola Crayons, five boxes of tissues, two boxes of Expo markers, one box each of Ziploc gallon, quart and sandwich bags," Natasha Smith said. "I wish the school didn't ask for the most expensive versions of everything and for so many of each thing."
 
Parents scour stores and the Internet deals, while pre-made school-supply kits have exploded in popularity. Twenty-seven percent of consumers are now offered such kits, often created by parent teacher organizations to keep down costs, according to the NPD Group.
 
Most with the chance to buy them do so. But the kits don't generally include clothes and accessories, which the NRF expects will lead the average K-12 student's expenses this year, accounting for $239.82.
 
Electronics, such as computers, calculators and phones, are projected to be the next biggest expense for school children ($203.44); followed by shoes ($135.96); and supplies like notebooks, pencils and backpacks ($117.49).
 
A typical college student will spend the most on electronics ($234.69); followed by clothing and accessories ($148.54); dorm and apartment furnishings ($120.19); and food items ($98.72).
 
Though per-student average school-supply spending is projected to reach new heights, the NRF anticipates that America's overall back-to-school spending will actually fall to $26.2 billion this year, down from $27.5 billion in 2018.
 
That's largely because of the decreased number of households reporting school-age children in the retail trade group's most recent survey.
 
The NRF also predicted overall college spending will fall to $54.5 billion from last year's record of $55.3 billion, due to college enrollment declines.
  
 
© 2019 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

One Teacher’s Mission to Level the Playing Field

Workforce preparation efforts and strategies will only be successful if special attention is paid to the underprivileged and minority populations in schools.

How Collaboration in Education Can Change the Game

Working with industry, leading education organizations can further opportunities for students.

One Non-Profit’s Mission to Help Bridge the Broadband Gap

Broadband provides students in rural and underserved urban schools access to online resources that can help them better prepare for the workforce.

Platforms & Programs