The Surprising Costs of Back to School Shopping


back to schoolWhen we were kids, back-to-school shopping meant a new backpack, some new sneakers, and maybe a first day outfit. Our parents moaned about the cost of shoes, and now that we're ponying up for it all, we get it. But one look at the long list of school supplies the average parent is supposed to send in with their kid, and I've got to tell you -- our parents had it EASY!

Back-to-school shopping isn't just about getting YOUR kid ready for school these days, it's re-stocking the classroom. The National Retail Federation estimates families spent around $606 this time last year, and an informal survey of parents reveals some have already spent as much as $650 on two kids (including the sneakers and clothes). Some families are getting away with reusing last year's backpack -- some are relying on hand-me-downs while some are buying all new duds.

But we're all footing the bill to keep our kids' classrooms in business. So what is a typical supply list going to set you back? We took the list from a first grade classroom in upstate New York (aka, my daughter's classroom) and crunched the numbers based on figures at national chains:

1 Plastic Pencil Box -- $1.79 (fortunately the pretty pink one is the same cost as the others)

4 Large Glue Sticks -- Score! The dollar store sells these in four-packs for just $1.

3 Packages Sharpened Pencils -- We already have a sharpener, so we only ponied up $1.95 per box for a total of $5.85.

2 18/14 Count Crayons -- At $2.64 apiece, this is a $5.28 investment.

2 Big Pink Erasers -- One two-pack is $1

1 Box Tissues -- I snagged a three-pack for $4.58. I'll use the other two boxes at home, bringing this to $1.52.

1 Container Baby Wipes -- $2 (off-brand)

2 Plastic Pocket Folders --  At $2 apiece (for the heavy duty kind), this was a $4 investment.

1 Pair of Scissors -- $2.49

2 Packages Markers -- Two-pack for $5.80

2 Packages Colored Pencils -- $2.84 per box for a total of $5.68

1 Box Gallon Size Ziploc Bags -- $3.16

1 Change of Clothing -- Pheww, something we already have! $0

That's $39.57 -- or $40 if you want to round up -- just to get a kid in the door of a "free" public school. Our parents definitely had it better!

How much do you expect to spend this year? How much of that is stuff schools used to supply?


Image via 04deveni/Flickr

back to school


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

Ashleigh Munson

it only gets worse. The sports start up in middle school, the clothes get pricey in high school, you have to PAY for all the senior and graduation stuff that goes on (prom tickets were $60 at my school!!). Then you hit college. Tuition, books, transportation, dorms, fees, parking fees, eating out...I miss the Crayola/glue stick days!

mustb... mustbeGRACE

Ahhhhhhhh, don't get me started!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My property taxes are thru the roof!

And they're building a 40 million dollar new high school in our area that looks like a friggin' castle.

And it's costing us 40 dollars worth of school supplies to get my kid back to school.

What are these country bumpkins going to do with a 40 million dollar high school?

Maybe they'll rise to the occasion someday and actually add something to the tax base?

But what about the out of district kids whose parents add NADA to OUR tax base?

The poor taxpayer.......................

And another 40 dollars in school supplies that some other kid will be using anyways.

Lean over again................

bills... billsfan1104

You got off easy, lol. Maybe because I have older kids. My ten year old needed the three boxes of kleenex, hand sanitizer, 5 folders all different colors and notebooks to match, 3 THREE-ringed binders, and of course the several glue sticks, crayons, markers(small and large), colored pencils, paper, and graph paper. NOt to mention we pay a 69 dollar supply fee. And usually in the middle of the school year, they are asking for refills. My daughter doesnt even get to keep her supplies. They are put in a "community" box or tub or whatever.

L1558 L1558


MOM of a rising Middle Schooler here (6th):

Okay, so I clip coupons and shopped in July at the big big big sale at Target (cheaper even than our Walmart was last year, where half the stuff we needed we couldn't find)---

When I asked the school why my kid needed to bring in 6 boxes of tissues, 3 bottles Purell, etc...I got the response that "some families can't afford them or forget to bring them". So I's OUR family's responsibility to suck up the cost?

The supplies (and I bought generic) alone were a #22 item list! NOT INCLUDING CLOTHING---


Including clothing-- (we buy sale/off brand, inexpensive, and thrift store items when possible)-- around $150 total for supplies and clothes. I got a fall jacket at Old Navy for $11.15.

If I bought brand name clothes or even brand name supplies, I can see it being a lot more.

This is for ONE child.

Didn't even mention the cost of sports, activities, girl scouts, etc equipment.

L1558 L1558

Oh and we are recycling the backpack, again.

Did I mention this is a public school?

momve... momversuswild

I pay property taxes AND buy ALL my kids' educational materials with NO tax break - as we choose to home school.  However, we do save on clothes and things like that.  We can also take vacations in the off season and save a bundle.  Another plus is that my kids aren't pressured to wear any certain brand name shoes or clothes, and no need for a backpack.


My dd is going to private school and the cost for tution is high yet alone school supplies with tution and uniforms and supplies it has hit a total over 6,000 ..... Don't let me forget the 8 boxes of crayons, 8 glue sticks, 2 boxes of pencils, paint, coloring book , disposible camera, markers, head phones, pencil grips,sissors and that's just the start of the list !

SandM... SandMsMama

What's up with public schools DEMANDING these supplies? back in the day they used to ask for donations for things like tissue all the misc stuff. THIS is why I'm homeschooling. not only do my kids get more attention and a more focused work environment, but when I buy these things I know my kids are going to be the ones using them

bills... billsfan1104

To add on my first post, my kids go to private school, so I have to tack on a bunch more expenses. We not only have property taxes here, but we have on top of that, country, city or "town" taxes and then school taxes as well. An average house here is 100k and the taxes are over 4k a year.

hanna... hannahsmom238

My daughter is starting kindergarten in a privae school too. Those little polo shirts that I had to to buy from the school were like $20 a pop. Luckily they just had a uniform swap so I got a few things free. I'm also wondering what my kid's going to be doing that she needs two boxes of 64 count crayons. They of course specified Crayola.

1-10 of 96 comments 12345 Last