This is the first in a two-part series explaining what families can expect as back-to-school season arrives.
By this time of summer, many parents are looking forward to sending the kids back to school … but it's going to cost them.
The average family will spend about $630 getting their kindergarten through twelfth grade students outfitted for school this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. Things tend to cost a little less in Utah than in some other states, but locals are still going to be paying plenty.
“We have the tendency to track pretty closely to those national numbers,” said Dave Davis, president of the Murray-based Utah Retail Merchants Association. “Utah's economy is a very, very strong economy. … As a general rule, when you have a strong economy consumer confidence is up, and high consumer confidence generally translates to people being willing to spend more dollars.”
Teenagers will kick in an average of $33.27 for back-to-school shopping, and pre-teens will spend $17.57 each, according to the National Retail Federation. Of course, most of the bill will be picked up by moms and dads.
The biggest chunk of the back-to-school budget, 34 percent, will be spent on clothing. Electronics and computer-related equipment come in a close second, at 31 percent. Shoes will take 19 percent of the money, and the remaining 16 percent will be spent on school supplies.
By the time her shopping's done, Krystal Jensen will spend close to $300 per child.
“It can be more,” the Ogden woman said, recognizing that some kids “want the expensive, cool stuff.”
Like many parents, Jensen's trying to cut back on the amount she spends.
Jennifer Stewart, of Farr West, said prices are about the same this year and she's not planning to cut back. She estimates she'll spend about $500 on clothes for two children, and as much as $200 on supplies.
Although they may have to buy certain articles for school activities — and many admit to being influenced by their kids' requests — parents have some control over how much they spend on clothes and shoes. They can save cash by limiting the number of items purchased, shopping at a discount store, or even hitting the thrift shops. The cost of supplies is a little less easy to control, because part of the shopping list is made by each child's teacher. Often, those teachers ask for brand-specific products, such as Ticonderoga pencils or Mead composition books.
For example, a list on the Morgan Elementary School website asks parents of second grade students to provide: 24 standard pencils; a box of 12 Crayola colored pencils; two boxes of Crayola crayons; a set of eight watercolors; a box of Crayola markers, two Pink Pearl erasers; two Expo dry erase markers; two highlighters; four Elmer's glue sticks; one pencil box; one pad of 3-inch sticky notes; two hard-cover composition books; earbuds; Ziploc storage bags; one container of Clorox wipes; and two boxes of facial tissues. The total cost, taking advantage of sale prices and some store brands at a discount store, is almost $40.
Older kids are likely to have added costs such as binders and loose-leaf paper, organizers and USB drives. Another must for most students is a bookbag, which is likely to cost around $20 to $30.
Lists are meant to guide parents, said Laura Wright, principal of Farr West Elementary School. She recommends that parents wait to buy supplies until they have a list from their child's teacher to avoid buying unnecessary or unmanagable items.
“I was in the classroom for 16 years. If I had a kid who brought in a big, giant binder, or a big pencil box that maybe wouldn't fit inside the desk, it became a piece of material that often hindered learning — it got in the way, and became a distraction,” she said.
Jensen realizes there are things her children will need to succeed, but wonders if some items on the lists should be supplied by schools.
“They ask for, like, 12 glue sticks,” she said. “I don't understand. When I was a kid we had to bring tissues … now they ask for snack bags.”
Some of those items, such as disinfectant wipes, may be treated as community property said Wright. However, each young student really will use as many as 15 to 20 glue sticks in a year on cut-and-paste projects.
“I taught first grade,” she said. “You go through a lot of stuff at that age, as you're continuing to learn fine motor skills.”
The dry erase markers on many back-to-school lists are not to supply the teacher with writing utensils for the big board at the front of the class, but for students to use on smaller versions.
“Teachers have found them a quick and easy method of assessment, rather than wasting paper,” Wright said, explaining that students write answers on individual-size whiteboards and hold them up so the teacher can immediately see who is understanding concepts. “And students tend to get more engaged when they have a little dry erase board than a little piece of paper.”
A few teachers at Farr West Elementary have decided to do the shopping for everything but the kids' backpacks, and ask parents to pay for their child's portion of the supplies. For kindergarteners the cost is $41, and for first graders it's $40, and that includes everything from crayons and scissors to field trip experiences.
“What our kindergarten and first grade teachers were finding is that often times, with children being younger, there were specific products that work better with kids — certain brands that didn't break as much,” said Wright.
Rather than seeing kids come in with a “mishmash” of products that won't last as long, she said, teachers buy products they trust. As an added bonus, they often get bulk pricing.
“Several parents have provided feedback that it's easier for them,” said Wright.
The request for money to cover supplies is a donation.
“If parents don't have the capacity to donate items, then obviously, as a school we do come up with the things kids need,” she said.
In some schools, parent's aren't provided a shopping list or asked for money. That's often the case at Ogden School District's low-income Title 1 schools.
“At some schools, a teacher will ocassionally ask for a donation, but even that is fairly rare,” said Zac Williams, spokesman for the district. “The school district does provide all of the necessary materials … and we have a lot of community organizations that do really a ton of service for students, in gathering school supplies such as backpacks and pencils, to make sure student have what they need.”
Clothes and supplies are just part of the back-to-school cash crunch.
“Her registration fee is $100,” Stewart said, pointing to a junior high school-aged daughter.
Some parents will also need to get children immunized before school starts. Vaccinations can be done at doctor's office, which may mean a co-payment, or at a local health department. The Davis County Health Department's fee schedule, which is on the department's website at http://www.daviscountyutah.gov/health/, runs from $30 for influenza vaccines to $200 for HPV9. The more common Dtap and Tdap vaccinations, for tetanus-diphtheria and pertussis, run from $50 to $63. Like the Davis County Health Department, the Bear River and Weber-Morgan health departments will work with insurance companies, and kids who qualify for the Vaccines for Children program can get immunized for the administration costs of $5 to $14.50.
Parents who can't wait for their kids to graduate from high school, so the back-to-school spending can end, have another pain in the wallet coming. In addition to tuition, fees and books (and maybe housing), the average family will spend $899 to outfit a child for college this year. According to the National Retail Federation, most of the money will be spent on electronics and computer equipment, followed by clothing and dorm or apartment furnishings. College students who live away from home will also need food and hygiene supplies, in addition to their backpacks, notebooks and pens.
Contact reporter Becky Wright at 801-625-4274 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ReporterBWright.