PINELLAS PARK — Ann Nguyen frowned as she looked at the price tag on a backpack at the Walmart Super Center on U.S. 19, while her seventh grader bounced around the back-to-school section. Prices have once again gone up.
“Are you sure we don’t need more pens?” asked Alex, 11, holding up a pack of Sharpies. No, his mom said, they really need to look for some better headphones. Tech gear is starting to push out standard school staples, and they are even pricier.
Back-to-school shoppers have seen prices rise 24% in the past two years, according to consulting firm Deloitte. Back-to-school spending this year is expected to reach a new high, according to the National Retail Federation, with the average family spending about $890. The industry group said the increase is largely driven by the price of electronics.
Because many Americans are dealing with stressed finances, from inflation to rising interest rates, Deloitte’s study predicted families will aim to spend less this year, focusing more on getting basic classroom supplies and saving splurges for apparel and tech.
It’s not just parents who will feel the squeeze. According to the National Education Association, more than 90% of teachers spend their own money on school supplies. One analysis estimated that educators will spend more than $820.
Sticky notes, pencils, Sharpies, clipboards and a dry ice science experiment kit are on the Amazon wish list posted by Williams Middle Magnet School in Tampa for Claire Cotton, who teaches seventh grade science. She’s one of many teachers who post wish lists like this ahead of the school year.
“These are the things I will probably end up buying for my students, but if anyone would like to contribute, I would be very grateful,” Cotton said.
According to data science from the market research firm Pattern, many back-to-school supplies have seen higher-than-normal inflation over the last year. They reported supplies with the greatest increases include graph paper with an 18% increase and mechanical pencils with an increase of 16% since 2022. They also found a 13% increase in the price of folders and highlighters.
Tips for saving money on school supplies
Tax-free shopping: The Florida tax-free shopping days continue through Sunday, which can leave some families out in the cold since school doesn’t start until almost a week later, when teachers typically send out their supply lists. For those that do have them, there’s a “Find Your School Supply List” option at the top of Walmart’s back-to-school shopping page.
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Store sales: Target has school supplies such as crayons and glue sticks starting at 25 cents, and accessories including lunchboxes starting at $5. Most of the retailer’s back-to-school deals hit the under $15 mark. Walmart touts its back-to-school deals as matching the same prices as last year and offering the 14 most popular items on school supply lists for under $13 total — including composition notebooks and Crayola crayons for 50 cents each, plus backpacks starting at $6.
For educators: Target is expanding its teacher savings event, which runs through Aug. 26, giving teachers a one-time 20% discount on their entire purchase, either in-store or online. Eligible educators include all K through 12 teachers and homeschool teachers, those working at day care centers and early childhood learning centers, vocational or technical school teachers and professors working at universities or colleges. If you qualify, all you need to do is join Target’s Circle loyalty program and verify that you’re a teacher. Then you can save through the Circle app. At Dollar General, teachers can get 30% off savings on desk supplies, organizers, arts and crafts and more. Go to dollargeneral.com/c/office-school-supplies and find the resources for teachers.
College students: There’s also a 20% one-time discount for college students who register via Target Circle, running through Aug. 26. If you’re a student or teacher with an active school email address, Microsoft is offering a complete Office suite access for free through Office 365 Education. If gives you access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and even Microsoft Teams.
Stores with discounted or free school supplies
Goodwill Industries sent out a list this week of the top back-to-school items that you might not realize you can find at Goodwill. The stores stock backpacks and lunchboxes and all kinds of school supplies, from notebooks to paper to colored pencils to desks for college students, Goodwill said. Other items to be found include lamps for a college dorm room, bicycles and helmets, thermal and plastic drink bottles and “alarm clocks so that a student is not late for school.” Visit goodwill.org and use the store locator to find the retail location nearest you.
Clothes To Kids is a nonprofit that provides quality used and new clothing to those who qualify. It has stores in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa. Resources are limited to two wardrobes per year. Items are offered for free to low-income, school-age children in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. You can go online at clothestokids.org to request an appointment or call 727-441-5050.
Salvation Army has a free school supply program for kids from preschool up to high school. While resources are limited, the sites will do what they can to help lower-income families during a difficult period. This can include offering affordable or free school supplies, shoes, clothes, backpacks and other back-to-school gear. Or they may provide referrals to places where families can find help. Get information at salvationarmyflorida.org/social-services. Or call 813-549-0641.
Metropolitan Ministries Bloom Again Thrift Store: Located at 2101 N Florida Ave. in Tampa, the store offers a wide variety of affordable clothing, furniture, appliances and more from its storefront in historic Tampa Heights. 813-209-1068.
School supply giveaways and events
Tropicana Field: The Saturday Shoppes and Live Love St. Pete are teaming up for a “Back to School” event on Saturday at Tropicana Field Lot 4. Two thousand backpacks with school supplies will be given out to local kids from noon to 5 p.m. No registration is required for this free event.
Back 2 School Bash: Hope in the Park: Kids can get free school supplies and a free dinner (while supplies last). Also, enjoy inflatables and games in the gym. Families can also get free food assistance (no documentation required). Free. 5-7 p.m. Thursday,. Clearwater First Church of the Nazarene, 1875 Nursery Road. 727-536-1498.
Sisters Empowering Women Back to School Bash: A family-friendly event with vendors, 350 free backpacks with supplies, games and food. Free. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. College Hill Church of God in Christ, 6414 N 30th St., Tampa. 813-239-3161.
Back to School Bash: Children of all ages are invited to this backpack and school supply giveaway with bounce houses and water games. Free. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Liberty Worship Center, 400 First Ave. SW, Largo. 727-366-0482.
Back to School: Shopping with a Vibe: Tyrone Faison hosts this back-to-school event with music, games, prizes, vendors and a book bag giveaway. Free. 2-6 p.m. Saturday. Buccaneer Field, 905 N Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Clearwater. 727-835-6467.