Pa. back-to-school spending at all-time high amid inflation, supply chain concerns

The state’s back-to-school shoppers are expected to spend $814 per child for clothing and supplies

By: - August 15, 2022 10:03 am
Teacher and students in a classroom.

(Getty Images)

By Chanel Hill

Back-to-school shoppers are expected to spend a record amount this year, with consumers facing high inflation and supply chain issues.

In a new back-to-school survey by Deloitte, Pennsylvania back-to-school shoppers are expected to spend $814 per child for clothing and supplies, 23 percent more than the national average of $661 per child.

Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 on school supplies, $168 more than in 2019, according to The National Retail Federation. In 2022, back-to-school spending is expected to reach a new high of $34.4 billion for K-12 students.

“Pennsylvania shoppers are really concerned about the economy and our surveys tell us that 60 percent expect the economy to worsen in the next six months,” said Jenna Pogorzelski, audit senior manager at Deloitte.

“Things are really tough right now for families, but I would encourage parents who have to go back-to-school shopping for their children to get out there earlier and shop around if they are concerned about stock outs and the price of items,” she added.

Parent Rachel Fennell-Hagan said she’s seen a difference in back-to-school shopping this year compared to previous years.

Fennell-Hagan has two daughters who are students in the School District of Philadelphia. Her daughter N’Rae Fennell will be a student at Lankenau Environmental Science Magnet High School and her daughter N’yla Fennell attends Overbrook Educational Center.

“The prices have definitely gone up when it comes to supplies and clothing,” Fennel-Hagan said. “My oldest daughter N’Rae has to wear a uniform this year and my youngest daughter N’yla doesn’t.

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“I’ve definitely been shopping around and comparing store prices more this year,” she said. “I want to make sure that I’m getting the things I need for my daughters, but also saving on items I’m purchasing as well.

“Walmart has been having really good sales, so I’ve been going there a lot for different items,” she added. “I’m also going to be taking advantage of the school district’s back-to-school bus tour as well.”

Back-to-school shopping is the second largest spend for families annually behind the holidays, according to Deloitte.

Despite inflation and supply chain concerns, K-12 parents are planning to spend money on products that encourage mental wellness, including items for extracurricular activities.

Fifty-two percent of parents are concerned about their child’s mental health and 39 percent have spent money on related products and services, according to the Deloitte survey.

Many parents of K-12 students are willing to spend more for sustainable products, with 50 percent choosing environmentally friendly or responsible sourced products.

However, spending on technology is set to decline 8 percent this year, as many families purchased needed technology supplies last year to meet virtual or hybrid needs. Eighty-one percent of parents said their child’s school provides the necessary devices and other technology for students.

In-store shopping is also expected to see a resurgence, accounting for 49 percent of the overall back-to-school shopping, up from 43 percent in 2021.

“One of the things we did notice in terms of trends this year was that families are focused on mental health for their children compared to previous years,” Pogorzelski said. “Families are really interested in getting products and services to address mental health awareness this year.

“We’re also seeing more parents gravitate to stores this year,” she added. “Fifty percent of our parents are planning to spend their back-to-school budget in stores, which is good news for our brick and mortar retailers.”

How to save money on back-to-school shopping

Back-to-school shoppers should start with organization by creating a list of the things they need and starting to see if they have those items already at home, advised financial advisor and professional organizer Janet Taylor.

“When it comes to buying supplies, families have a tendency to buy more than what they actually need,” Taylor said.

“Families should see if they have left over items from back-to-school shopping from the year before like notebooks, loose leaf paper and a pack of pens and pencils,” she added. “If you already have those items, that is one less thing you have to get on your list. From there, you can create a list of items that you need.”

Reaching out to the community and neighbors for school supplies and gently used clothes is another option for parents.

“Find out what other people have,” Taylor said. “People within the community and your neighbors may have what you’re looking for in terms of clothing and supplies. If your neighbors don’t have anything you’re looking for, maybe they can connect you with someone who does.”

In addition to reaching out to the community, shopping around and taking advantage of upcoming sales is also crucial for families looking to save.

“Don’t hesitate to shop,” Taylor said. “Look at the Dollar Store for items like notebooks and pens, but be mindful that just because their prices are reasonable there things can also add up.

“Look for sales and use your higher coupons for high ticket items,” she added. “Also, don’t overspend. There is no need to purchase unnecessary items or overspend on items your children don’t need.”

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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