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Back-to-school shopping slows as families struggle with inflation

Surveys show that families plan to cut back on their school shopping this year, but experts say shopping early can help you save money.
Posted at 6:41 AM, Jul 14, 2023

This will be an unpredictable back-to-school shopping season, with several surveys predicting a 10% drop in spending and many families looking to save wherever they can.

So as you cross off items on those back-to-school lists, the past two years of inflation might have you questioning which supplies your child really needs this year and where you might be able to cut back.

Tonya Youngbird is among those feeling the pinch. She and her son, Braxton, were shopping for school supplies at Walmart.

But she worries about being able to afford everything this year.

"I'll get as much as I can, then let them know," she said. "If they ask for more, then we'll try."

Walmart's Matt Goans says right now is the best time for parents like Youngbird to find a deal because the retailer is running half-price deals on many of its most popular back-to-school items.

"For instance," he said, "we have our composition notebooks, normally 97 cents, on rollback for 50 cents right now."

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Less spending on clothing and extras

Jane Hali is the founder and CEO of Jane Hali and Associates, a retail and brand investment research firm.

"I think the customer is gonna start earlier because the deals are now," she said.

Hali says this year, many parents will pull back on spending, especially in the clothing category.

"So school staples will be fine," she said. "We're really having a problem in discretionary space," the fashion and little extras kids like.

The National Retail Federation says that despite easing inflation, 80% of back-to-school shoppers expect to see higher prices this year.

It says shoppers are more likely to:

- Compare prices online

- Buy store brand or generic products

- Use coupons or promo codes

Kristin McGrath of RetailMeNot recommends giving yourself enough time to sort through the deals so you don't buy all your school supplies in one place.

"You're probably gonna start seeing things like BOGO offers or multiple-buy offers where you get a discount if you buy a certain number of things," she said.

But mom Vondi Wheeler, checking the deals at Walmart, says don't wait too long or you'll miss the best deals. "I usually shop early," she said. "That's the key, shopping early."