Parents are expected to pull out their wallets and spend more money during this year’s back-to-school shopping season. But honestly, how much more should we spend?

Many parents have gone through a stressful school year where a tough job market and safety measures for staying at home have strained the finances of many families. Many parents have had to build an office or two and add other distance learning expenses, including laptops and headphones, to their budgets.

Now some mothers say they’re looking at a trash can full of school supplies, including unused notebooks and pens, folders, binders, and assorted markers and pencils.

Many items weren’t used much last year as classrooms went virtual. Some expect a lot of digital schoolwork to come, even though many students return to class in August and September.

As much as everyone wants things to get back to normal, the increase in COVID-19 cases and the unknowns surrounding the delta variant are making many nervous.

The dynamics of back-to-school shopping changed when cases of COVID-19 reappeared, according to Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group.

Will more schools return to blended learning, he asks, with a few days spent in class and others at home? If so, how many new pairs of sneakers will you need?

Waiting to see what happens

Many parents usually stock up on clothes and other essentials in June or July, Cohen said, but they delayed their purchases because they had just bought a new backpack and other supplies. April or May as the children returned to class after several months of distance learning at home.

Sales of basic school supplies are about 17% behind what they likely would be, he said. He expects back-to-school shopping to extend into September and October.

“Parents don’t rush until they know they’re literally going to school,” Cohen said.

“COVID has changed the pace of shopping.”

In the past, many consumers would buy clothes a season before they really needed them, say a winter coat in late September. Now they could buy a winter coat after the first snowfall because they don’t know what the next step is when it comes to the pandemic restrictions.

Some bought unicorn backpacks early on

Some parents, of course, still removed back-to-school items early in the hopes that in-person learning would be the norm in 2021-22.

Melodie Dwyer, 37, spent around $ 35 this summer on Amazon to buy her 6-year-old daughter, Kristal Pryor, a matching unicorn lunchbox and backpack. The backpack might be the envy of many in her daughter’s freshman class at Inkster Academy.

The Detroit mother is worried about how the spread of the delta variant could curtail school plans. Her daughter has bronchitis and she fears that if the virus spreads her child could be sent home at some point. And she doesn’t want her daughter to get sick.

However, she remains hopeful and goes ahead with the back-to-school purchases.

“I spend a lot more, especially with his schooling,” Dwyer said.

Last year her child was home for kindergarten. This year, her daughter is entering school in September.

Dwyer predicts she could spend $ 200-300 on school uniforms, as well as school supplies. She could spend twice as much as last year.

The Child Tax Credit Advance is helpful to Dwyer as she is disabled and unable to work.

Who are the big spenders?

Many expect heavy spending to come. Average back-to-school spending is expected to reach $ 268 per student, an 8.5% increase from $ 247 in 2020, according to a previous consumer survey from KPMG, a major accounting firm.

And it’s not your imagination, now we are seeing more and more young adults buying decor items for the dorm as some students are returning to campus.

Julia Wilson, KPMG’s advisory managing director in the United States, said freshmen at the university last year often did not move to campus due to restrictions related to the pandemic. Now they have to buy bedding, shelves and electronics.

Families with students expect to spend 13% more than last year, according to the KPMG survey of 1,000 consumers in May.

Another group of big spenders: families with young children. Year over year, preschool spending is expected to jump 32%.

Many families have delayed starting preschool education programs during the pandemic, according to the KPMG report, and school districts across the country are expecting some of the largest kindergarten and preschool enrollments on record.

In contrast, those whose elementary and middle school students expect to spend only 3% more, while those in high school expect to spend 4% more.

Wilson noted that two-thirds of consumers surveyed believed they would spend more money because they expect higher prices for many items, including clothing. The consumer price index for clothing rose 4.21% for the 12 months ended July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“For the first time in (almost) two years,” Wilson said, “kids are buying more things like shoes and clothes.”

Students should also need typical school supplies, she said, but they are also more likely to turn to Google Classroom and other online tools.

The KPMG report noted, “Many products are experiencing price spikes, due to the combination of supply shocks to US manufacturing suppliers and strong demand for goods, including certain categories of school purchases. “

We’re talking about higher prices or limited sales promotions for clothing and other items that might face shortages on the shelves in some places, like backpacks.

A Target in Troy, Michigan, for example, only had 11 backpacks hanging in a sizable exhibit area on a Monday night. Prices were between $ 35 and $ 55 for brands like Puma and JanSport.

While more types of backpacks could easily be found online at Target that night, even some items were sold in specific colors by then.

Cohen noted that some retailers saw their stocks of items, like backpacks, run out last spring as some returned to class. And retailers have been trying to catch up since then.

“They haven’t had backpacks for months,” Cohen said.

Other items facing shortages include headphones and other tech gadgets that include computer chips. Experts note that purchasing some laptops and tablets may require more effort due to limited supply due to the global shortage of computer chips.

A lot of people may have more money to spend, but they might need to spend a little more time finding good deals.

The monthly payments of the federal advance tax credit for children, which began on July 15, will certainly help to fuel spending. For K-12 and college shoppers, nearly half of those surveyed plan to use the money from recent child tax credit payments for their back-to-school purchases, according to National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics.

Total back-to-school spending is expected to hit a record $ 37.1 billion, up 9.4% from $ 33.9 billion last year, National Retail Federation estimates released in July and a historic record in the history of the investigation.

Where to save money

Here are some suggestions for saving money:

– Check what you haven’t used last year. You may have forgotten what you bought a year or two ago. Take out school supplies, T-shirts and other nearly new items. Some clothes may still be suitable.

—Take the time to wander around the store to spot the bargains. A box of 16 Crayola pencils was priced at $ 1.29 down an alley in the Meijer in Detroit, but by simply walking around the corner, a buyer could spot a box of 24 for 50 cents.

—Try another retailer. This year, the shelves for backpacks could be as empty as the shelves for toilet paper in 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

A rack at a Five Below store in Detroit did not have a backpack on a Monday afternoon in late August. But a few backpacks could be found in another aisle. Backpacks, however, were best supplied that day at non-traditional back-to-school retailers, like Dunham’s Sports. Buying some items online might turn out to be a smart bet.

—Start shopping early. It might be best not to wait until the last weekend before class starts to pick up what you know you’ll need.

According to the National Retail Federation’s June survey, more than 97% of retailers surveyed said they had been affected by delays in ports and shipments. And 70% of those surveyed said they need to add two weeks to three weeks to receive product orders.

– Put something back. Additional purchases of $ 3 here and $ 5 there add up. Do you need another pack of hair scrunchies?

—Examine other expenses. What will you have to spend on child care this year if you return to work?

– Limit crazy articles. A sparkly unicorn backpack could be the perfect start to the first year. Still, do you really need a new backpack every year? Or every six months?

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