Parents struggling with inflation: “I left that $25 backpack for my preschooler at checkout”


Parents across the country are finding that their back-to-school dollars aren’t going as far as they used to. Inflation has been at high levels for decades, with skyrocketing prices for groceries, gasoline, household items and just about everything needed to run a household.

As Sarah Longmore finished her back-to-school shopping, the mother-of-five eyed a $25 backpack for her preschooler. Rampant inflation had eaten into the family budget, and she decided that her daughter could make do with an inheritance. She put the backpack back.

Like Longmore, many parents — regardless of income — are finding that their back-to-school dollars aren’t going as far as they used to. Inflation is at levels never seen in decadeswith skyrocketing prices for groceries, gasoline, household items, and just about everything needed to run a household.

Just 36% of parents said they would be able to afford everything their children need this school year, according to Morning Consult’s annual report back to school shopping report. That’s a sharp drop from 52% in 2021, when inflation was lower and stimulus checks as well as child tax credit advance payments helped some families.

“My buying habits have changed significantly,” said Longmore, a human resources professional who lives in the Poconos, Pennsylvania with her husband and five children.

The Longmores earn more than $100,000 a year, well above the median U.S. household income of nearly $65,000. But with five young children, the family’s expenses are also well above average, and Longmore said that wasn’t enough to keep her household running smoothly – a problem highlighted during the back-to-school season, as four of the children of the couple 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 younger ones inherit the backpacks and desks of the 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,” the president said and NRF CEO 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.”


The discounts suggested by the NRF might help, but they may not be enough to help every family pay for what their children need for school – even if retailers such as Walmart, Target, Kohl’s and others drop commodity prices to reduce their bloated inventories.

Molly Schmitz, a mother of four from Wisconsin, said she frequently recycles supplies from the previous year, as Longmore did.

She invests in Lifetime Guaranteed Lands’ End backpacks and carefully plans her purchases. “I’m starting at dollar stores, followed by Walmart and Target, although even dollar stores have grown their prices at $1.25she said, adding that she bought lots of supplies for her three school-age children for less than $50 in total.

Longmore shopped more at Walmart and Target to get better discounts, especially on kids’ clothes and shoes. Yet she credit card debt “isn’t looking great right now,” she said.

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 help her class of low-income students financially. “Over the past few years, I have 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 to 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 a budget.”


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