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Parents Talk: The Rising Cost of School Supplies

Parents can expect to spend 25 percent more on school supplies and extracurricular activities.

Oh, the joys of the back-to-school season. The signs in department stores point us to the back-to-school section. The smells of fresh notebooks and the vision of all the wonderful ideas that will eventually be scribbled on the pages is every teacher’s dream.

However, after kids' requests for name-brand shoes and designer clothing, parents must pry open their wallets for yet another expense: school supplies.

I have to admit, I was excited that my daughter was entering kindergarten this year and that I was finally going to get to buy school supplies.

But, I was quickly alarmed as my cart filled up and I still had half of the list to go. I ended up stopping the trip at $60 and returning on payday of the next week for another $40 in glue, Kleenex, antibacterial wipes and markers.

As ridiculously expensive as my own shopping trip was, I started imagining how the parents of an older child felt—who may be required to buy an expensive graphing calculator or other high-tech item.

The Huntington Backpack Index, a project of Huntington National Bank, reported parents can expect to spend up to 25 percent more this school year to fill their children's backpacks and pay for extracurricular activities—the largest annual increase in the index’s six-year history.

Huntington’s annual survey of the cost of items on school supply lists found that between summer 2010 and now, elementary school costs shot up from $474 to $530 (12 percent); middle school costs ballooned from $545 to $681 (25 percent); and high school costs increased from $1,000 to $1,091 (9 percent).

These numbers also include “pay-to-play” fees for school sports teams and other extracurricular activities, which have spiked rapidly as schools face financial shortfalls.

Many communities have set up school supply donation banks for families having a hard time with back-to-school costs. For example, ResourceWest is collecting school supplies for 1,100 children in the Minnetonka and Hopkins school district.

After spending a quick $100, I have decided that last year’s backpack is still in excellent shape and will be reused.

How much have you spent on supplies for your child this year? Have you found a way to cut costs? What's the most expensive thing you've had to buy? Tell us in the comments section below.

katie johnson August 18, 2011 at 03:01 PM
duct tape those old folders. use the supplies from last year. buy back packs at value village. refurbish as needed. Caryn is right on! get to know your student's teacher and then communicate with the teacher. they will let you know specifically what is needed.
Ellen Frigo August 18, 2011 at 03:15 PM
I second Caryn's comment as well. I have found two ways to save considerable money on school supplies. A) don't buy those pre-packaged kits sold by the school's parent association. If you didn't use up all 12 black pens and 36 #2 pencils, you may have leftovers, which the "kits" replenish needlessly. B) Send 1/2 or 1/3 of the requested amount of those high-volume items and tell your kids to remind you when they run out. C) Reuse the folders/accordian files etc, that don't actually wear out.
Tod August 21, 2011 at 09:42 PM
Time to get realistic. Our kids don't NEED the $20 trapper binder at Target. They don't NEED the (insert current fad) day planner. Go to the dollar store and get it all done for $40. Spiral note books, pens, pencils et al...the whole works. Buy a good sturdy day pack from an outdoor supply store. It's $60-$80 but will last years. My sophomore daughter's is on her 3rd year and it's just starting to show some wear. If your kid thinks there's a stigma (or you do)...then you both need to grow up. Older kids and school clothes? Give them the money and if they get one pair of designer jeans so be it. That's what they wear. If the next year they are wise and budget the cash....lesson learned. Younger kids I just let them pick one or two name brand items to match into the off label clothing. The lessons start young and by indulging beyond budget while they are young only makes future battles more difficult.
Heidi September 01, 2011 at 06:50 PM
We purchased about $40 worth of school supplies this year for our kindergartner--the vast majority of which are "Shared" supplies and so go into a pool for everyone. We wondered, why doesn't the school just collect $30 from every parent and purchase what they need from a wholesale supply that the rest of us can't access? Surely glue sticks, crayons and tissues could be purchased for less if it was all done in bulk.
katie johnson September 03, 2011 at 03:21 PM
schools cannot collect money and go shopping for students. the teachers would end up having to do it, or the secretary, or the ___________. i find that parents are much more frugal than mpls public schools when it comes to spending their money. this school supply shopping is a great money and value lesson for parents and their students. it is good to keep the power of where your money goes, which stores you support, what your needs vs. your wants are. and of course lets not forget communication with the teacher. ie. can my student bring in markers or crayons or kleenex, sanitizer, etc. later in the year when we can afford it? i understand the bulk purchase savings, but i don't think its really a savings here when parents and their student can use this as an opportunity to discuss what matters, what the needs are, how much money we have to spend, and all that sort of fun stuff.

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