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Back-to-school shopping wasn’t easy for Lauren Cyr this year.
The mother of three has been searching for deals and spread her shopping over multiple paychecks. Yet the 31-year-old sees higher price tags attached to it everything from backpacks to paper – and the summer ritual is putting more strain on her family budget than in previous years.
“Before I even went shopping, I can tell you I had a full-blown panic attack and was crying,” says Cyr, a customer service manager who lives in Ruskin, Florida. “It’s just a headache.”
Cyr is not alone. An average family with children in elementary school through high school plans to spend a record $890.07 on school supplies this year, according to a survey of more than 7,800 consumers last month. was published by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics. Total spending on school-related items for students in these grades is expected to rise to a new record of $41.5 billion.
There is a bright spot, however: Back-to-school shoppers are less likely to say they are spending more due to higher prices in 2023 than they were in 2022, according to NRF data. Instead of, Consumers have reported that purchasing more supplies and higher priced items has contributed to this higher expenses this year.
Still, the rising costs could leave millions of Americans in the lurch as they try to fill the backpacks of school-aged children this year. Although inflation has decreased overall, consumers may not experience a reprieve as school supply prices continue to rise.
“For the average family, there will be sticker shock,” said Jay Zagorsky, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.
He said consumers should not insist on buying a specific item or brand when prices rise. “By being flexible in what you buy, you can go home with both a happy child and a happy wallet.”
CNBC used the Producer Price Index — a closely watched measure of business inflation measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — to track how the costs of making items typically purchased for students changed from 2019 to 2023. PPI data provides insight into the changing costs of specific items through a sample of wholesalers.
These producers can then pass on the extra costs to consumers in the form of smaller products or higher prices.
Retailers out Hole Unpleasant Kohl’s trying to convince consumers with offers while prices rise. Walmart said it has kept the school supply basket at the same price as last year by offering regular items like backpacks starting at $6. Goal kicked off the back-to-school season in early July with a special sale for customers participating in the loyalty program.
The federal data isn’t a perfect representation of the change in spending because the amount customers pay can vary by brand, store or location. According to Zagorsky, prices may also not perfectly match the path of inflation because products are made and ordered by retailers months before the school season starts.
But the federal data could provide insight into how much more consumers across the country are paying for key items as kids head back to the classroom.
Two data points measure changing paper costs.
Firstly, there is the classic writing and printing paper. There are also tablets and notebooks.
Prices of both fell early during the Covid-19 pandemic before surging. Paper cost manufacturers about 24% more in June 2023 than in the same month four years earlier, while tablets and sanitary towels rose 33.1% in that period.
Writing, art and office supplies
The price of products such as glue and pencils is also rising.
Inflation for pens, markers and mechanical pencils – and related parts – appears to have peaked. But prices were 13% higher in June 2023 than in the same month in 2019.
The inflation rate for a group of goods, including pencils and other supplies commonly used in offices and for art, has developed similarly. Prices rose 23.2% from June 2019 to June 2023.
Perhaps the most iconic student symbol is also more expensive to produce.
Backpack prices have increased less than for other goods, but are still 10.5% higher in June 2023 than in the same month in 2019.
— CNBC’s Gabriel Cortes and Melissa Repko contributed to this report.