Parents face rising prices for back-to-school gear

Back-to-school shopping is one of the biggest seasons for retailers. This year, more than half of shoppers have already started buying supplies — but what they’re getting is a lesson in rising prices. 

“It’s kind of crazy just to see how the prices have gone up so exponentially,” said Mary Elliott, a parent in Fort Worth, Texas. 

“I looked at Target online for some crayons and they happen to be almost $3,” Elliott added. “And you know, normally I’ve seen them just walking through the store for $.50 so it was kind of shocking.”

Elliott is one of the hundreds of parents in line for free pencils, notebooks and paper. To help parents’ pocketbooks, the Fort Worth School District plans to spend more than $4 million on school supplies, paid for by federal funds from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan. 

Industry experts say part of the reason for the price jump is that when COVID-19 shut down the country, the supply chain was put on hold — and retailers are still struggling to get back to normal. 

“They’re having to pay for air freight versus shipping cargo in order to get things here on time,” said Katherine Cullen, a senior director for industry and consumer insights at the National Retail Federation. “And so those costs in terms of actually transporting goods, that has been a major concern for many of the retailers we’ve talked to.” 

But the price jump isn’t likely to slow down spending. The National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend $37.1 billion in back-to-school supplies this year, up more than $3 billion from 2020. 

With two elementary-aged boys, Erica Tice is getting creative to save money on supplies, since her job as a cafeteria worker won’t start until August. 

“Use a lot of stuff from last year, recycle stuff, they’re going to have mismatched pencils in bags and stuff, but it works,” Tice said. 

On average, parents of K-12 students are expected to spend just over $848 per household on supplies. The biggest jump in spending this year is expected to come from electronics and clothing. 

“You thought we bought all the laptops and tablets we needed last year, but no, consumers and schools are really leading into digital learning,” Cullen said. “And so we are seeing parents really planning on purchasing those items.”