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Parents Fight US Inflation: “I Left a $25 Backpack at the Checkout”

When Sarah Longmore, a mother of five, finished her back-to-school shopping while still at the store, she looked at a $25 backpack she had chosen for her preschool-age daughter and decided to return it to the shelf. With the family budget under pressure, Sarah considered that the child could be content with a second-hand item.

Like her, many parents—regardless of income—are finding that their back-to-school dollars aren’t going as far as they once were. Inflation is at levels not seen in decades, with prices soaring for groceries, gas, household goods and almost everything needed to run a home.

Only 36% of parents said they could afford everything their children need this school year, according to Morning Consult’s annual back-to-school shopping report.

The number has dropped sharply from 52% in 2021, when inflation was lower and stimulus checks plus early child tax credit payments helped some families.

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

The Longmores earn more than $100,000 a year, well above the median US household income of nearly $65,000. But with five young children, the family’s expenses are also well above average, and Longmore said it’s not enough to keep their house running comfortably — a problem highlighted in the back-to-school season, as four of the couple’s children are in school. school age.

“Not everyone has everything new, [e] not everyone can have it all,” Longmore said. Her 12-year-old daughter chose new clothes over backpacks and stationery, for example. Younger children are inheriting their siblings’ backpacks and wallets.

Sarah Longmore and her baby Lizzie

Other families are likely making similar decisions. Parents are expected to spend about $661 to $864 on primary and secondary school supplies for the 2022-23 academic year, according to estimates by consultancy Deloitte and the National Retail Federation.

“Families consider back-to-school and college items an essential category, and are taking every step possible to purchase what they need for the upcoming school year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. Those sacrifices could include buying unbranded items, chasing sales and cutting discretionary spending, he said.

Some families always face these challenges at the beginning of the school year. But it’s not something the Longmore family is used to. “It’s been at least 20 years since I’ve had to backtrack to this point,” she said. “This is a new and humbling experience for me as an adult.”

Looking for discounts

The NRF-suggested cuts may help, but they may not be enough to help every family pay what their children need for school — even as retailers like Walmart, Target, Kohl’s and others lower merchandise prices to reduce their bloated inventories. .

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

She invests in backpacks from US retailer Lands’ End that have a lifetime warranty. “I start in dollar stores(the equivalent of R$1.99 stores in Brazil), followed by Walmart and Target, although even dollar stores have raised their prices to $1.25,” she said, adding that she bought a lot of supplies for her three school-age children for less than $50 total.

Longmore has been shopping more at Walmart and Target for better discounts, especially on children’s clothing and shoes. Still, her credit card debt is “not the best,” she said.

She is not alone. Morning Consult “is surveying consumers every two weeks and what has set off alarm bells for me is the increase in the number of parents who don’t feel they can afford all of their school supplies this year,” said Claire Tassin, a retail and e-commerce from the market data intelligence company.

Molly Schmitz said her three children Jack, Lily and Jase are recycling and reusing many of their school supplies, including backpacks, this year.

Families with an income or a single parent may feel especially pressured. Guen Corrigan, who lives in rural Maine, said her daughter — a single mother — told her she bought clothes and shoes at thrift stores and bought food for lunch. But when Corrigan asked her about school supplies, “it was clear my daughter ignored this in her budget,” she wrote in an emailed comment to CNN Business.

Corrigan stepped in and bought $140 worth of supplies for his granddaughter and said he was happy to help his hardworking daughter. But she worries about students who don’t have grandparents to help.

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

Sixth grade teacher Cynthia Angell, who lives in Tracy, California, finds herself less able to financially help her class of predominantly low-income students. “In recent years, I have provided school supplies to students. This year I won’t be able to do it,” Angell said in an email to CNN Business.

She expects families with resources to donate classroom materials, “but I hope parents are also limited in how much they can help,” Angell said, adding that she fears the problems will disproportionately affect students from low-income families.

“So, do I limit what we do for the sake of fairness, or beg for help, or give up my own needs to help students?” said Angelo. “I think the answer is yes to all three.”

Longmore, the Poconos’ mother, is trying to see the bright side of thrift and sacrifice: “I think this will build character and teach my kids to reduce waste and stick to the budget.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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