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Back-to-school shopping could cost families a record amount this year. Here's how to save.

Tips for saving on back-to-school shopping
Tips for saving on back-to-school shopping 01:52

Inflation is hitting parents' pocketbooks hard, with back-to-school shopping forecast to cost American families the most ever amid higher prices for everything from calculators to crayons. 

Spending on school supplies is expected to hit a record $41.5 billion this year, according to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics. That would mark an increase of 12%, or $4.6 billion, from the $36.9 billion consumers spent last year.

It would also smash the previous high of $37.1 billion, set in 2021. 

Families are spending more on school supplies after a year of high inflation, but also due to evolving school-related needs. For instance, more big-ticket items, like electronics related to learning, are on shoppers' lists this year. 

A larger share — nearly 70% compared to last year's 65% — of back-to-school shoppers expect to buy computers and related accessories this year, according to the NRF survey.

Prices for many classroom essentials have outpaced the 4% increase in other major goods, according to an analysis by Pattern. This is how much prices of back-to-school staples have increased compared to last year:

  • Graph Paper - 18%
  • Mechanical Pencils - 16%
  • Folders - 13%
  • Highlighters - 13%
  • Index Cards - 12%
  • Crayons - 12%
  • Composition Books - 9%
  • Rulers - 8%
  • Scientific Calculators - 6%

How to save on school supplies

  • Shop at discount stores or by off-brand products. Nine percent of shoppers will switch to discount stores, or will purchase supplies as needed throughout the school year, instead of buying everything up front, according to a survey from TransUnion.
  • Plan ahead. Make a list of essential tools and supplies and be on the lookout for sales, strategies that can help consumers avoid impulse purchases. "Be on the lookout for major sales events," Mark Rose, senior director of retail at TransUnion, told CBS MoneyWatch.
  • Place a bulk order. Ask friends to go in on a bulk order with you, which can save money, Pattern data expert Dallin Hatch advised. 
  • Ask for a price adjustment. "Keep an eye out for sales that come after you've shopped, and go back and ask for a price adjustment for up to a week or two after purchase," Rose of TransUnion said. 
  • Buy secondhand. A Morning Consult survey shows twice as many parents said they'll buy used home goods and school supplies this year compared with last year, to keep their budgets in check.
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