Here are a Few Ways Parents Can Save During Back-to-School Shopping Amid Inflation

Back-to-School season is right around the corner as students across the United States will return to classrooms anytime from late July until after Labor Day.  

And with colleges across the nation soon filling dorms with students, this means parents are already worrying about getting their kids all their dorm room essentials, including laptops, headphones, coffee makers, dorm décor, and so much more.

American families are preparing for much unique experience this fall than years past. Going back to school during a pandemic is hard alone, but adding that U.S. inflation is now at a new 40-year high, the new school year is expected to be even more challenging.

Back-to-school shopping is an exciting rite of passage for parents and their children, but it may also be an overwhelming financial chore this year. Prices are rising just about everywhere in the world because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and supply chain bottlenecks driving prices up. 

Over the coming weeks, I expect parents to pay an all-time high cost to prepare their kids for school again.  The National Retail Federation (NRF) has projected that the average family will spend a staggering $864 to send their children back to school in 2022. Total back-to-school spending is also expected to match 2021′s record high of $37 billion.

With many consumer goods seeing dramatic price jumps, most families have been forced to strategize carefully to afford back to school shopping.  According to an NRF survey, one-third of consumers (38%) said they are cutting back in other spending areas to cover the cost of items for the upcoming school year. FinanceBuzz has also found that 1 in 3 back-to-school shoppers are planning to spend less this year compared to last year.

Claire Tassin, a retail and ecommerce analyst for global data intelligence company Morning Consult, believes that retailers should be prepared for consumers who are facing the dual threats of inflation and a looming recession.

“Consumers’ wallets are feeling squeezed from higher prices for essentials, leaving less room for discretionary spending,” Tassin explained. “Inflation hasn’t affected Back-to-School categories like apparel, electronics and paper goods in the same way that it’s hitting gasoline prices, but family budgets are adjusting to accommodate rising prices by spending less on discretionary goods.”

Mastercard SpendingPulse expects clothing sales to increase 8.7 percent over 2021 and 15.9 percent compared to pre-pandemic 2019. Overall retail sales, excluding automotive, are forecasted to grow 7.5 percent during the mid-July through Labor Day Back-to-School period. The SpendingPulse research also shows shoppers will stock up on apparel for school, events, and other social occasions this fall, meaning the demand for apparel both in-store and online shows no signs of slowing.

“Back-to-School is the second biggest season for retailers and is often looked at as an early indicator of retail momentum ahead of the traditional holiday season,” said Mastercard’s Steve Sadove, senior advisor and former CEO and chairperson of Saks Incorporated. 

“While Mastercard SpendingPulse anticipates growth across sectors, retailers will need to find innovative ways to entice shoppers as discretionary spending potentially stretches thin as a result of increasing prices,” added Sadove.

But no matter what students may need for school and how bad inflation is, there are still plenty of ways to cut costs and stay under budget. The following strategies can help parents make sure they get everything on their list without breaking the bank.

1. Wait to shop. Don’t feel pressured to get every single item on a supply list before the first day of school. Ask the teachers which items are needed right away, then purchase remaining supplies later than there could be better deals in September and beyond.

Wait until October or November to purchase fall clothing as this is when retailers will start shifting their displays to winter wear and mark down prices on the previous season’s wear. 

“Retailers become more motivated to move that inventory once it’s been out for a while,” according to Courtney Jespersen, a consumer savings expert at NerdWallet.

2. Reuse old items. Check with your child’s school for their specific supply lists and see what you already have. Sometimes backpacks, lunch boxes, binders, and pencil boxes will last for several years and will not need to be replaced.

3. Look for special events and help programs. Many states hold tax-free weekend events for back-to-school shopping. Check with school or local government offices to find out if your state offers these events. Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and other school funds are usually available to cover school supply expenses if the cost is a hardship. Sometimes churches and other charitable organizations also offer back-to-school events where they give out free school supplies to qualified families. Many school districts offer clothing closet programs where kids can access new clothing, shoes, backpacks, and other necessities for free.

4. Compare deals online and at various brick and mortar retailers. Many stores will offer back-to-school discounts and will compete against rivals. Consumer Reports lists prices at various retailers for products so you can get a quick snapshot of who’s charging what. Often retailers such as Best Buy, Target, and Walmart will match competitors’ prices, so you may get the better price without even leaving the store.

5.Consider buying refurbished electronics. Instead of buying a brand-new computer or phone, look for a certified used a model from a reputable seller, such as Amazon, or the manufacturer itself. With new laptops being much higher in demand because of the chip shortage, this can be a good way to find a slightly older machine at a lower cost. 

Back-to-school spending has soared since the onset of the pandemic, but resiliency and flexibility could be the answer this coming season for many parents who are facing the pressures of rising prices. 

The smart shopping strategies described above may help keep back-to-school shopping fun all while helping parents avoid steep price tags this season.