Adding It Up: Tips to Resist the Rising Cost of School Supplies

kids in backpacks: cost of School supplies rising

According to the National Retail Foundation, the cost of school supplies for the 2017 school year will be the second most expensive in history, topped only by costs from 2012. Including clothing, electronics, shoes and supplies, families with children in K-12 programs will spend an average of almost $700. That’s somewhere around $180 per child, according to another survey from Parenting.com and Women & Co. For kids in middle and high school, according to the National Education Association, those costs can rise to more than $300.

Meanwhile, approximately 45% of children in the United States live in low-income or poor families. When stable housing, healthy meals and uninterrupted utilities are a parents’ primary concern, a list that includes art smocks, Post-It Notes and gym shoes unquestionably feels out of reach. While there’s no escaping feeding the $30 billion school supply industry, there are ways to soften the blow.

Ways to save on school supplies

  • Search online for your district’s school supply lists, like this for the Madison Metropolitan School District. Then stick to it!
  • After digging through last year’s supplies to see what you can reuse and recycle, see if you can put together a budget, or at least decide on a firm amount you will spend.
  • Resist the trendiest items—that coveted pencil case, the newest lunch box. Avoid a battle by letting each child choose just one splurge item, leaving the choice up to them.
  • If you haven’t tried your hand at digital couponing, now may be the time.
  • Remember: Craigslist, Freecycle and thrift stores are full of unused or lightly used supplies, from backpacks to rulers.
  • Supermarkets and dollar stores can offer the best deals for generic items.
  • Consider going in on bulk purchases with fellow parents or host a swap and see what you have to exchange (most schools will happily accept whatever no one takes home).
  • Finally, as much as you are able, wait for the sales. While August’s back-to-school sales draw in the early birds, September sees the real deals when a store’s remaining inventory is just taking up shelf space.

How to get free school supplies

  • Check with your school district to see what programs they have in place. Many schools and teachers will work with you to whittle the list down to something more realistic.
  • Check with churches. Catholic Charities in La Crosse, WI, for example, distributes backpacks and supplies with the American Red Cross.

Look into national and local nonprofits. The Salvation Army runs annual Back-to-School drives, like these in Milwaukee and Cedar Rapids, WI.  Near Madison, programs like School Supplies for Kids and MOM do the same.