SHERIDAN — Now that the kids in Sheridan County are back in their classes with pens — or laptops — in hand, a lot of area parents are undoubtedly adding up receipts and feeling the financial squeeze of back-to-school shopping.
According to the Accenture (a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company) annual Back-to-School Shopping Survey, which polled parents of kindergarten- through college-age students across the nation, a majority of parents planned to spend more on their children’s back-to-school shopping this year.
Unfortunately, the increase was shown to have been driven by rising costs and requirements, not by greater parent spending power.
According to the survey, 67 percent of parents planned to spend between $100-500 and 41 percent planned to spend $500 or more for back-to-school shopping this year.
The National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics found the average family with children in grades K-12 actually spends $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5 percent from the $634.78 spent last year.
Shopping supply lists found in stores and schools asked students to start the year off with the basics liked lined paper and erasers but many parents say this list was just the beginning, as growing children need new clothes and growing trends can mean children demanding new electronics.
According to the NRF survey, back-to-school shoppers will spend an average $212.35 on electronic items with total national spending expected to reach $8.4 billion.
Though the total costs are rising, NRF also noted that fewer shoppers took advantage of back-to-school discounts and promotions this year.
According to the survey, as of Aug. 12, 23.6 percent of families had not started shopping yet, up from 20.9 percent last year, despite the peak of retailers’ special school savings opportunities concluding prior to that date.
Local mother, shopper and accountant Jenn Smith said taking advantage of the deals is the key to keeping back-to-school spending at bay.
Smith has graduated two sons through the K-12 school system. For the first year in a long time, she only had to shop for one student this fall, her youngest son Jacob, a seventh-grader at Sheridan Junior High School.
“I’ve been buying school supplies and school clothes for 20 years and after a while, you get good at it,” she said.
Smith said she shops for school throughout the year, grabbing essentials as they go on sale such as mechanical pencils for only $0.50 a pack at Walmart and backpacks off-season for $3 at Kmart.
“Four months ago Kmart had all these backpacks on sale for $3 so I bought three of them, so when it came time for school I just went to the closet and pulled one out,” she said. “They were really nice backpacks and I figured you always need a backpack. They break, they rip, the cat may pee on one, you just never know when you’re going to need a new one.”
Smith said come back-to-school time the same backpack was $20.
She estimated she only spent around $20 total on the actual supplies including backpacks, pencils, notebooks and more.
But apparently even deal hunters can’t get off that easy.
Smith had to make a last-minute trip to Billings, Montana, to find clothes for her student who she said is in the odd size stage between kid and young adult.
“I spent $40 in gas getting to Billings and back and then $30 in food while we were there, so that’s another $70-80 I added to the school shopping costs because I wouldn’t have spent that if he didn’t need new pants in time for school,” she said. “The only reason we went to Billings was Penney’s, Kmart and Walmart here in town didn’t have his size so I didn’t have a choice, but trust me I looked.”
In total she estimates she spent around $120 on back-to-school but gained close to $200 worth of items in retail costs. She did note that the cost will rise again as her son gets into classes such as advanced math that requires specific calculators.
Capital One breaks down the nation’s annual back-to-school spending as well, while also looking at long-term investing trends and identified a bigger issue than a year-over-year price increases.
According to their data, 21 percent of parents spend more on September school supplies than they save for their child’s college education each year.
The data shows, whether your child attends public school or private school, elementary school or high school, back-to-school shopping is always an added expense that demands attention, planning and budgeting.