Skip to main content

For Back-to-School Purchases, Inflation Prompts Creativity

While U.S. inflation has slowed, July's 8.5% is still a big number. Shoppers looking for school stuff for the kids need to get creative.

Inflation tamped down a bit in July, clocking in at an 8.5% rate, according to the U.S. consumer price index. That’s down from 9.1% in June, due primarily to declining U.S. energy prices.

While the latest CPI is mildly encouraging, the nation’s back-to-school shoppers aren’t exactly doing cartwheels over the latest news.

Consider a brand-new study from Bankrate.com, which shows 2 of every 5 (41%)  U.S. households went back-to-school shopping this month. The report said that “inflation will change the way they shop for the [2022-2023 school year], with 95% of these shoppers looking to employ a money-saving strategy this year.”

Compared with years past, the study says, inflation-conscious back-to-school shoppers are:

-- Less likely to have money specifically set aside for these purchases (25% vs. 33% in previous years);

-- More likely to say that back-to-school shopping will strain their budgets (36% vs. 31% in previous years)

-- More likely to say that they will feel pressured to spend more than they are comfortable with on these purchases (30% vs. 26% in previous years).

That’s not all.

The 95% of back-to-school shoppers cited in the Bankrate study who’ll strategically try to save money point to multiple methods, including coupons/discounts/sales, buying fewer items, buying cheaper brands, and stretching current items another year.

'Major Financial Toll'

In other words, inflation’s financial pain continues to stack up for average Americans.

“Back-to-school shopping has turned into a major retail event, second only to the winter holidays,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate. 

“This year, these expenses are taking a major financial toll on American families already struggling with the highest inflation readings in more than 40 years.”

On the upside, all the money-saving strategies referenced in the Bankrate survey are worth considering, Rossman said.

“I’m especially fond of looking for opportunities to stack discounts, for example, combining credit card rewards with store coupons and online shopping portals,” he told TheStreet.com. “That represents three ways to save on the same purchase.”

Ways to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Budget experts cite a number of effective ways to save on back-to-school shopping, with these strategies at the top of the list.

"Stack" your savings. Take advantage of all opportunities to save — beyond the discounted sale price, if possible.

“Once you’ve made your shopping list, look to see what store offers the lowest cost for each item,” said Rebecca Gramuglia, consumer expert at TopCashback.com. “Check for any coupons or special offers associated with the item(s) to make sure you’re getting the best price.”

Be card savvy. Using the right credit card can help increase your savings even more.

“Review your credit card’s terms to determine which spending category can give you the most cash back or rewards, and be sure to use it when shopping for those items,” Gramuglia told TheStreet.

Be discount savvy. Take advantage of student discounts at stores like American Eagle  (AEO)  and Apple.  (AAPL)

“Bring along your student ID when you shop and ask if the store offers student discounts if you’re unsure,” Gramuglia said. “You can also use programs like UniDays and StudentRate to gain access to exclusive student discounts online.”

Make a list. Create a shopping list and divide purchases into two categories: essentials and nonessentials.

“Use a budgeting app to monitor your budget and spending as you begin shopping,” said Kendall Clayborne, a certified financial planner at SoFi

“Begin with the essentials and work your way down the shopping list. If you run out of room in the budget before you get to the nonessentials, then those purchases will have to wait until you have the room in your budget.”

Take stock of what you already have. If you have leftover pens, pencils, notebooks, and other school tools from last year, make good use of them.

“Look through what you already have at home before purchasing everything on this year’s back-to-school shopping list,” Clayborne told TheStreet. “It can be tempting to stock up when you’re at Target,  (TGT)  but taking stock of what you already have or can reuse will minimize unnecessary spending.”

Don’t purchase items before you know you will need them. Spread out purchases over the year.

“I always ended up with far more school supplies than I needed in both K-12 and college,” Clayborne said. 

“It’s okay to wait on purchases that you will not need on week one of school. In fact, they may even go on sale after the back-to-school rush is over.”