School supplies: How to save on back-to-school items

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
Tips to save money on back-to-school supplies
Many parents may be dealing with sticker shock as they get their children ready to go back to school with many prices higher than they used to be.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Many parents may be dealing with sticker shock as they get their children ready to go back to school and prices for many items are up.

The ABC 7 I-Team explains what's fueling the increase and has some solutions for families looking to save.

Back-to-school spending is expected to reach a record $37.1 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation. For many families, the increase in school supply costs are adding a new layer of stress.

"I've had to say many times, 'I think we got everything we need,'" Christina Kotis told the I-Team.

She's watching her wallet as she fills her shopping cart with back-to-school supplies and clothing.

"A whole bunch of dress shirts," she said.

It's all for her three children who are eager to get back in the classroom.

"I was sad over COVID, I didn't get to see friends. This year I'm back to school," said one of Kotis' kids.

But there's a price.

"In, general I do think the cost is up," Kotis said -- and she's right.

Consumer experts said prices of backpacks, clothing and tech items are going up. In fact, prices of almost all consumer goods have increased more than 5% from last year, according to the latest inflation numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Shopper, Michelle Miralda, went directly to the clearance section when shopping for her kids.

"I'm not going to the regular section, it's not what it used to be. I go to clearance," she said.

"We are making lists and asking what do you really need and avoiding aisles," Ashley George, told the I-Team.

Ted Rossman, from, explains the price uptick.

"Costs are going up for a whole bunch of reasons but they really come back to disruptions in the supply chain, and then also just higher costs. So higher costs of transportation, higher manufacturing costs are costs that businesses are making their workers. This is all evidence of upward price pressure on back-to-school and other items," Rossman said.

Despite some reports of school supply shortages, the I- Team went to several stores and found most shelves were full of choices. However, a few with backpacks and planners were starting to look a bit bare, so you may not want to wait until the last minute to get what you really need.

The National Retail Federation said, this year, families are expected to pay an average of $848 for an elementary or high school student -- which is up almost $60 from last year. College students will spend an average of $1,200, which is also up $141.

"It is a good reminder for parents that you maybe don't need to buy everything brand new. Think inventory of what you already have around the house or trying to source items at a low or no cost from your community. Friends and family members and neighbors," Rossman said. "They might be happy to share unused items if you were gently used

items, you know, everything from school supplies to clothes. Pack bags for college kids, you know, maybe you know somebody who has an old couch or microwave or desk."

You can also check out second hand stores and online classifieds, like the Facebook Marketplace. For electronics and tech, you can find savings in buying refurbished items from places like the Apple Store and WalMart. You can also put the brakes on buying everything right away.

"You really don't need all this on day one. A lot of these things will go on even deeper discounts after Labor Day and after the first day of school," Rossman added. "So, if you've been asking the teacher, you know, where do we absolutely need right away and what's related in the year that we can maybe spread out the impact and get it on sale."

The higher school supply demand is also sparking a scam waring. The Better Business Bureau said fake websites may target shoppers with phony deals. You could pay and never get the items. You should only shop with retailers you know and trust and be skeptical of prices which seem too low. Use a credit card in case you need to dispute a charge.