Parents struggling with inflation: ‘I left that $25 backpack for my preschooler at the checkout.’

Sep 4, 2022, 9:00 AM
Inflation rates are up, and it might affect things at home....
Inflation rates are up and it might start affecting things at home. Photo: Adobe Stock

(CNN) — As Sarah Longmore finished her back-to-school shopping, the mother of five looked at a $25 backpack for her preschooler. Soaring inflation had crunched the family’s budget, and she decided her daughter could make do with a hand-me-down. She put the backpack back.

Like Longmore, other parents nationwide are finding their back-to-school dollars aren’t going as far as they once did. Inflation is at levels not seen in decades, with prices spiking for groceries, gas, home goods and just about everything needed to run a household.

Just 36% of parents said they would be able to pay for everything their kids need this school year, according to Morning Consult’s annual back-to-school shopping report. That’s down sharply from 52% in 2021, when inflation was lower and stimulus checks plus advance child tax credit payments helped some families.

“My shopping habits have changed significantly,” said Longmore, an HR professional who lives in the Poconos in Pennsylvania with her husband and five children.

Longmore makes more than $100,000, well above the median US household income of nearly $65,000. But she said it’s not enough to keep her large household running comfortably — a problem underscored in the back-to-school season as four of the couple’s five children are of school age.

“Not everyone got everything new, [and] not everyone could get everything,” Longmore said. The 12-year-old chose new clothes instead of a new backpack and stationery, for example. The younger children are inheriting siblings’ backpacks and desks that still have life in them.

Other families are likely making similar decisions.

Parents are expected to spend about $661 to $864 on K-12 school supplies for the 2022-23 academic year, according to estimates from consulting firm Deloitte and the National Retail Federation.

“Families consider back-to-school and college items an essential category, and they are taking whatever steps they can … to purchase what they need for the upcoming school year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. Those sacrifices may include buying off-brand items, hunting for sales and cutting back on discretionary spending, he said.

Some families always face these challenges at the beginning of the school year. But it’s not something Longmore is used to.

“It’s been at least 20 years since I have had to pull back to this extent,” she said. “This is a new and humbling experience for me as an adult.”

Tapped out

The cutbacks the NRF suggest might help, but they may not be enough to help every family afford what their children need for school — even as retailers including Walmart, Target, Kohl’s and others drop prices on merchandise to cut down on their bloated inventories.

Wisconsin mother of four Molly Schmitz said she frequently recycles supplies from the previous year, as Longmore did.

She invests in Lands’ End backpacks that have a lifetime guarantee, and carefully maps out her shopping. “I begin at dollar stores followed by Walmart and Target, although even the dollar stores have upped their prices to $1.25,” she said, adding that she bought many supplies for her three school-age kids for less than $50 total.

Longmore has been shopping more at Walmart and Target to score better discounts, especially on kids’ clothes and shoes. Still, her credit card debt is “not looking great right now,” she said.

She’s hardly alone.

Morning Consult has “been polling consumers every other week and the thing that set off alarm bells for me was the spike in the number of parents who don’t feel like they can afford all the school supplies this year,” said Claire Tassin, a retail and e-commerce analyst with the market data intelligence firm.

Families with one income or a single parent can feel especially crunched.

Guen Corrigan, who lives in rural Maine, said her daughter — a single mother — told her she’d shopped thrift stores for clothing and shoes, and purchased food for lunches. But when Corrigan asked her about school supplies, “it was clear that my daughter had overlooked this in her budget,” she wrote in an emailed comment to CNN Business.

Corrigan stepped in and bought $140 worth of supplies for her granddaughter, and said she was happy to help her hardworking daughter. But she worries for schoolkids who don’t have a grandparent to help.

Beyond parents, teachers are also concerned about being able to adequately prepare their classrooms for the new academic year. Many end up spending their own money on supplies, and those in low-income districts often purchase items for their students.

Sixth-grade teacher Cynthia Angell, who lives in Tracy, California, finds herself less able to financially assist her class of predominantly low-income students. “I have in past years provided students with school supplies. This year I will not be able to do so,” Angell said in an email to CNN Business.

She hopes families with means will donate classroom supplies, “but I expect parents are also limited in how much they can help,” Angell said, adding that she fears the problems will disproportionately impact students from lower-income families.

“So do I limit what we do for equity’s sake, or do I beg for help, or do I give up my own needs to help the students?” Angell said. “I guess the answer is yes to all three.”

Longmore, the mother in the Poconos, is trying to see the silver lining of scrimping and sacrificing: “I think it will build character and teach my children to reduce waste and stay on a budget.”

Today’s Top Stories


FILE - Data from the website FlightAware shows more than 4,731 flights were canceled globally on Ja...
Pete Muntean and Greg Wallace, CNN

Airports and airlines brace for a major impact from Hurricane Ian

Airlines, airports and the federal government are bracing for aviation infrastructure to take a major blow from Hurricane Ian.
17 hours ago
On Monday, David Rice was named president and CEO of Associated Food Stores. Photo credit: Associat...
Mark Jones

Associated Food Stores name David Rice as its new CEO/President

On Monday, Associated Food Stores named David Rice as its new CEO and president.
3 days ago
Mom and daughter with piggy bank. Parents can have a big role in the financial education of their k...
Adam Small

BYU study finds role-modeling, hands-on learning most effective financial education for kids

Financial education from parents to their children is best done through modeling and hands-on learning, according to researchers.
6 days ago
Fallen palm trees lay over the Ports of Call Resort entrance after the passage of Hurricane Fiona i...
Alejandro Lucero

How to avoid scammers when donating to hurricane relief

Scammers are targeting many well-intentioned people who are looking to donate to those affected by Hurricane Fiona. Learn how to donate effectively.
6 days ago
Mandatory Vehicle Safety Inspections...
Jessica Lowell

Extending the life of your car: Getting more miles out of your vehicle

New and used vehicles have a hefty price tag. There are many ways car owners can keep their cars running longer.
6 days ago
Multiple credit cards...
Martha C. White, CNN

America’s dependence on credit cards is growing. The Fed’s rate hike will make it more painful

Data from Bank of America reflects higher rates of borrowing among lower income Americans. Credit utilization, a ratio of how much available credit a person has used as a percentage of their credit limit, has been rising since early 2021.
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Parents struggling with inflation: ‘I left that $25 backpack for my preschooler at the checkout.’