Aug 3, 2022 - News

Back-to-school shopping blues

Illustration of a pencil with a price that moves up to $9 instead of the number 2.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Many families are already facing a math problem before the school year begins: how to make dollars stretch as far as they once did.

Driving the news: Ohio's tax-free weekend — when shoppers don't pay state or county sales tax on clothing items ($75 or less) and school supplies ($20 or less) — begins Friday.

Why it matters: The seven-year tradition is always timed for back-to-school, but this year, getting the most bang for your buck is crucial.

By the numbers: Franklin County's 7.5% sales tax means shoppers will save $7.50 on every $100 spent.

The big picture: The average U.S. household will spend $864 on school items this year, up $15 from 2021 and $168 from 2019, per the National Retail Federation.

  • In a survey, two-thirds of shoppers said they've noticed higher prices on school items and 38% said they're cutting back in other areas to cover costs.

What they're saying: Many families are struggling to meet basic needs, so "everything becomes a trade-off," Amy Gordon, executive director and CEO of Communities in Schools of Ohio, tells Axios. The nonprofit embeds staff in area schools to help at-risk students.

  • "Putting food on the table versus buying a $100 calculator for calculus … that's a no-win situation," she says.

Yes, and: Inflation is impacting Ohio's teachers, too. They spent an average of $444 to stock their classrooms in 2018, per the Economic Policy Institute — or $555 in today's dollars.

The intrigue: Those supplies go beyond classroom decor, notebooks and pencils. Many teachers stock snacks and hygiene products, especially in districts with high poverty rates, Ohio Education Association president Scott DiMauro tells Axios.

  • "High inflation means school budgets don't stretch as far … and that puts more pressure on individual teachers to fill the gap," he says.

📬 We want to know: Are you experiencing sticker shock this back-to-school season? Got any cash-saving tips? Anything out of stock? Email [email protected]

If you're looking for ways to help, groups that help students in need are accepting donations and seeking volunteers, including:

🎒 Stuff the Backpack, WCMH-TV (NBC4) and United Way of Central Ohio

  • 6-8pm Aug. 11, Lower.com Field. RSVP.

✏️ Operation Backpack, Volunteers of America Ohio

👕 Clothe-a-Child, Charity Newsies

📓 Tom Fennessy/Mike Harden Back-to-School Project

  • 9am-1pm Saturday and Aug. 13, 3440 Centerpoint Drive, Urbancrest. RSVP.
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