Scary Choices: Back-to-School Shopping


Moms, dads, and extended family members in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley were not immune from scary shopping experiences leading up to the start of a new school year. Part of the scare was linked to the Halloween merchandise on full display at the big box stores since early August. Halloween still falls on October 31st, so the appropriate sequence for consumer spending is still back-to-school shopping, a state fair in nearby Minnesota, Labor Day festivities, football homecomings, school breaks, and then Halloween. Billions will be spent on Halloween candy and costumes. In a money saving effort, the spendthrift Grinch in the St. Croix Valley will continue to celebrate as himself.

Parents, disguised as consumers, quickly discovered ‘must-have’ back-to-school items were impacted by the latest boogeyman called inflation. Meanwhile, the list for must-haves keeps getting longer, including notebooks and pencils, the latest in fashion, accessories, computers, and other electronics. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicted spending for back-to-school and back-to-college could reach $110.7 billion, up two percent from 2021’s record setting $108.1 billion. Perhaps the NRF’s school spending estimates were intended to draw attention away from research from the Brookings Institute on the cost to raise a child to age 17, estimated at slightly more than $310,000 or $18,300 per year!!!

The NRF says households may spend an average of $864 for the 2022-23 K-12 school year while back-to-college spending is stable at around $1,199 per household. Parents-consumers are expected to spend almost 41 percent more in back-to-school shopping this year compared to pre-COVID 2019.

The retail analytics company DataWeave noted the following increases from 2021:
-backpacks are up nearly 12 percent
-lunchboxes increased 14 percent
-notebooks and folders take the top prize with an increase of 31 percent

Newell Brands makes good old Elmer’s Glue and Sharpie pens. Their 2022 prices were set to cover inflationary costs from suppliers. Newell offered a hedge by saying it has no control over what retailers charge for their products. Sharpie permanent markers are reportedly up seven percent and highlighters up 8.5 percent, but the Elmer’s glue products were up almost ten percent.

St. Croix Valley residents are resilient. Moms and dads likely shopped early, starting in July. Online shopping sometimes translates into lower prices. In-store brands are usually priced lower than brand name products. Working extra hours or making an additional sale when commissions were involved helped soften the financial blow of school supplies.

St. Croix Valley residents and business are also generous. They’ll find a way to pick up extra supplies for classrooms. Free backpacks and school supplies are now common activities for numerous clubs and organizations. Social media and school districts will make the important connections of where and when.

As long as children and young adults continue to grow a few inches between June and September, there will be back-to-school shopping needs. Remember, those students will soon be on their own. Ideally they start new chapters as residents in the St. Croix Valley as parents and community members. Their shopping carts will be brimming with supplies. And the beat goes on.