School Supplies Cost Families $600 Annually

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Consumer Confidence may be down, but that hasn’t stopped parents from spending on school supplies. According to a survey completed by the National Retail Federation, the average American family will spend $606.40 on clothes, shoes, electronics and other back-to-school items this year, up from the $548.72 budget in 2009.

Total spending on school-aged children in grades K-12 is expected to reach $21.35 billion. If you add college students to the mix, back-to-school expenditures will total $55.12 billion. The NRF gets its data from U.S. population figures.

While they may be spending more, parents are still looking for ways to save. According to the NRF, 44.3% of Americans said they would buy store brand or generic products to keep costs down, compared to 41.7% last year. Additionally, more parents plan to comparison shop online (30.3% now vs. 26.4% in 2009). You will be happy to know, however, that there are ways to spend less than the estimated national average.

For example, Beth Kendrick, a parent in North Carolina, spent $65 on her fifth-grader’s school supplies by shopping early.

“I look at the circulars for deals and always shop before Aug. 15,” she tells MainStreet. “I found 15-cent folders, 50-cent rulers, a $15 zipper binder, 50-cent pencils, lots of pens, paper, colored pencils and markers for $1.There [is] no crowd and a great selection.”

Additionally, Pennsylvania mom Leah Ingram, who has two teenage daughters, suggests that families buy in bulk and split the cost along the way. Other parents suggest speaking to your child’s school as they sometimes offer programs that save families money and/or time.

New York resident Kim Lundgren was able to purchase school supplies for her daughter through her Westchester County school at the end of the 2009 school year. The supplies, which are exactly what the school requires, are then delivered to the family’s house before the student starts in the fall. Virginia resident Berna Diehl’s children go to an elementary school that offers a similar program.

“The idea of not scrounging around Target for the last file folder that perfectly matches the one required on the school supply list is fantastic to me,” she tells MainStreet, before adding,  “For my first-grader, they’re charging $40 and for my third-grader, they’re charging $45.”

In addition to this parental guidance, the California Society of CPAs, whose website specializes in helping consumers budget, offers the following suggestions:

  • Recycle. Don’t throw out your children’s backpack at the end of the year or at least rummage through it before chucking it for good. You may also want to clean out your closets before heading to the store since you may already have an adequate supply of pens, notebooks, crayons and markers on hand. Saving on small supplies will help you afford larger purchases, such as electronics and clothing, when the new school year approaches.
  • Spread out purchases over time. You don’t need to buy your child’s entire school wardrobe in August or September, especially since fall fashions will be on sale later in the year. Additionally, don’t charge school supplies to your credit card if you don’t intend to pay the bill in full when it arrives. According to CALCPA, “the finance charges can wipe out any sales tax savings.”  Many retailers don’t charge sales tax on back-to-school purchases in August, which would be negated by a credit card’s interest rates.
  • Set up an allowance for your child. Involve your child in the process by having them write out a list of ”wants” and a list of surefire “needs.”  Once you’ve spent your budgeted amount on school supplies, you can encourage your child to spend their allowance on the “want” items. “Parents are often hesitant to say ‘we can't afford this’ for fear of upsetting their child or because they don't want their child to go to school with less than other kids have,” David Colgren, media relations counsel for CALCPA, says. “Instead, focus on your budget, and on the long-term goals you can attain by sticking to it. Don't be afraid to say, ‘we don't have endless cash for this stuff.’” Providing them with their own small revenue stream will help your child understand this concept and, perhaps, prevent you from splurging on a pair of coveted designer jeans.

MainStreet’s already found you some other ways to save. Check out this round up of 8 great retailer discounts on school supplies as well as our school-supplying savings for teachers.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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