Inflation drives up cost of back-to-school items; local families look for deals, assistance

Buying your kid that fancy new backpack to impress their friends on the first day of school will come at a steeper price as inflation has driven up the cost of backpacks 25.6%, according to the retail data analytics website DataWeave.

Families stocking up on back-to-school supplies this year are expected to spend more than ever before. A national survey found families with children in elementary school through high school plan to shell out an average of $890.

This has local families looking for deals, such as Ohio’s Sales Tax Holiday.

The three-day holiday is set for the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of August each year. This year, that’s this coming weekend, Aug. 4 through Aug. 6. Tax-free items include school supplies and books that cost $20 or less per item and clothing at $75 or less per item.

State leaders are looking at extending it in future years, with some advocating it be two weeks long.

But shopping ahead for the first day of school this year is already in full swing. with more than half (55%) of consumers who are buying ahead of the new school year saying they had already started shopping as of early July, according to an annual survey released last week by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

That includes Crystal Houser, of Kettering, who said she starts shopping “at least a month” before school starts for her two children for everything from crayons, scissors and bookbags to new clothing and shoes. Houser, who stopped by Meijer on Tuesday, said she doesn’t factor the state’s sales tax holiday into her shopping plans.

“I go whenever I get the chance,” Houser said. “They have deals up until that time anyway. Most of everything I got today is on sale.”

New record spending

Shoppers for both K-12 and college supplies expect to spend record amounts due to rising costs, according to the NRF survey.

Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $890 on school items, a new high, up from $864 in 2022, according to the survey. Total back-to-school spending is expected to reach a record $41.5 billion, up from $36.9 billion last year and an all-time high in the survey’s 20-year history.

The survey also found college students and their families plan to spend an average of $1,300, which was up. Total back-to-college spending is expected to reach a record $94 billion, up from $73.9 billion in 2022.

Sales tax holiday changes

The annual sales tax holiday weekend started in 2015 and the Ohio General Assembly made it permanent in 2018.

Legislators supported making it a two-week sales tax holiday in 2024, but a line item veto by Gov. Mike DeWine struck that from the state’s budget. DeWine wrote that he supports an expanded sales tax holiday, but instead of requiring it be two weeks long he wants the Tax Commissioner, state budget director and County Commissioners Association to study the potential impact on revenues before determining how long it should be.

Some shoppers were out before the tax holiday. Diana Bambic, of Dayton, who went shopping at Meijer in Kettering last Tuesday, said prices this year seemed to be about the same as last year.

“I try to buy them when they’re on sale either here and other locations,” Bambic said. “I haven’t really noticed too much of a difference.”

Bambic said the she doesn’t wait for sales tax holiday weekend to save money on back-to-school items, but rather purchases them while she can.

“I don’t know if it really makes too much of a difference on the items that I’m buying — smaller items,” she said.

Comparing retailers

The prices of back-to-school products have increased on average by 9.8% in 2023 compared to 2022, based on a DataWeave analysis of 1,200 products across Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Kroger. Price increases for backpacks marked the greatest change in price with a 25% increase, followed by office organization products at 16.8%, DataWeave said.

Kroger increased its prices by 12.1%, the highest among the retailers analyzed, followed by average price increases at Amazon (10.5%) and Walmart (5.8%).

“People are noticing higher prices,” said Katherine Cullen, NRF’s vice president of industry and consumer insights, during a back-to-school webinar Monday. “It’s not to say that inflation doesn’t continue to be on people’s minds. What has changed is how they are dealing with it.”

People are increasingly looking for price-saving deals, doing comparative shopping online to maximize value, Cullen said.

“They’re possibly even a little less brand- and store-loyal than they used to be because they want to find the best price for the items that they’re looking for,” she said.

Although they are shopping around, most consumers are not feeling completely pushed into discount channels, Cullen said.

“It’s an option for them that they’re going to use, but they haven’t returned to ... their behavior that we saw during the Great Recession when they were in a much different financial place,” she said.

Assistance for families

A resource available to help with the rising cost of school supplies is local organization Crayons to Classrooms, which is committed to securing and distributing essential school supplies at no cost to teachers of students in need.

It serves the Greater Dayton Region, including Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, and Warren counties, accepting community donations and leveraging an array of supply chain partners to secure the supplies at significantly reduced costs.

Then, it distributes those items to teachers in its Dayton store, said Malena Jackson, Crayons to Classrooms’ marketing coordinator

“When it comes down to local people struggling to find the money for new school supplies or school supplies, we encourage people to figure out if their student’s school is on our list of eligibility,” Jackson said. “Some people don’t know that even if their school is not eligible to shop with us, they can volunteer and donate their hours to their child’s teacher, who can then come and shop with us and then have free supplies for that parent’s student.”

Ohio Sales Tax Holiday

WHEN: Friday, Aug. 4 to Sunday, Aug. 6

WHAT: Tax-free items include clothing at $75 or less per item and school supplies and books at $20 or less per item.

MORE INFO: View the full list of items on the Ohio Department of Taxation website:

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