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20/20 Posts of the Week-$350 on School Supplies?

School suppliesThere was an article on the front page of our local newspaper this week about the Good Samaritan Center, which is a food pantry that distributes to the needy.The article said that right after school starts, they have a huge increase in demand because people spent their money on school supplies and can’t buy food.

There are about a million things wrong with this picture. I realize that most people want their children to show up on the first day of school with the recommended supplies, but I also heard another statistic on the radio this week that said the average amount spent on each child for back to school in the US is $350!

I did buy all the recommended school supplies for my daughter and spent less than $20. We didn’t buy a new backpack or any clothes other than a couple of pairs of pants at Target and a few headbands. Adding that to the supplies, we are still under $100. Even if your kids need new clothes, there are a ton of thrift stores or yard sale options. If you did buy new, all they really need is a few t-shirts and a couple pairs of pants. Where is the other $250 being spent?

I know for a fact that there were at least three local charities that were giving away school supplies. One even held a back to school bash at the rec center where low income families could receive a backpack full of school supplies, win prizes, and even get a free haircut. It might be embarrassing to ask for free stuff, but isn’t that what you do when you go to the food pantry?ย 

I think the real problem is that we get carried away when we see all the back to school displays at the store. Kids see the One Direction lunch box or the Hello Kitty day planner and want it all. Parents get caught up with all the cute clothes. Before you know it, you’ve spent $300 and now can’t buy groceries.

Public school is actually very cheap. You would never have to spend a dime if you didn’t want to, and sadly, there are many parents who don’t. I wouldn’t want my child showing up on the first day with too short jeans and no supplies, but you don’t have to blow all your cash and end up at the food bank either. It all comes down to those basic financial rules that will save your butt every time; budgeting, knowing wants vs needs, and spending less than you earn. If only they taught that in school…..


Debt Roundup is celebrating one year of blogging with $100 giveaway as well. Congratulations!


Thanks to these fine bloggers for sharing my posts this week. An extra box of #2 pencils to everyone!

Frugal Rules, Vanessa’s Money, Young Adult Money, The Frugal Farmer, Ready for Zero Blog, Make Money Your Way, Debt Roundup, and Streets Ahead Living

20/20 Posts of the Week

5 of My Small Business and Website Failures at Young Adult Money. Why is it fun to read about someone’s failures?

How to Change Your Life Forever at Krantcents. Success is a habit!

Why Won’t You Tweet My Post? at Luke 1428. Share the Twitter love, people!

When We Knowingly “Over Pay” at Planting Our Pennies. As a small business owner, I hope you over pay.

A Career in Sales Isn’t For Everyone at Club Thrifty. Here’s to admitting that before you were too invested to quit.

Have a good weekend! How much did you spend on school supplies?ย 

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/photomyart




About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. One thing to keep in mind is that even through the school bookshop will normally sell all of the required books and stationary, it’s often cheaper to go to the nearest big-box store to take advantage of some ridiculously low priced loss-leaders. My nearest store always has a 5-pack of lined school books (used in nearly every subject) for 5 cents! This compares to a few dollars each buying directly from the school.

    • Right. If you look around, sometimes stores offer loss leaders, like folders for a penny. Also, if you wait until the last minute, all the cheap stuff is often sold out and you have to get what is available.

  2. WOW $350 seems a bit high but not surprising these days at all. I remember when I was younger most things were provided for me but that’s not the case any more. Just another good reason to have projected expenses in the budget so a family can save all year for back to school if they can do that. Not everyone can. Have a great weekend Kim. CBB

    • No kidding. Spend $350 if it is what you want to do and you value those purchases, but save and budget for it and then you can still have money to eat with as well.

  3. Kim, I completely agree about the school supplies. It’s ridiculous what people think they “need”. Spending $350 on school supplies when you should be buying food instead? What a lack of wisdom. ๐Ÿ™

  4. Re overpaying – So when Mr PoP finally gets his rimless Lindberg glasses that we think are going to cost around $800 we should order them through you? =)

    Thanks for the mention!

    • I’m not sure I know what those are, but I could certainly see if I could get them and I’d be happy to pass along a sweet discount.

  5. In a strange way, I miss my children returning to school! I get to experience it with my classes though.

    Thanks for the links, I am in good company.

  6. It certainly is expensive to send kids to school these days. It starts for us this week! Enjoy!

  7. $350 seems like so much! I imagine myself spending much less when we have children.

  8. $350 does sound overboard. Whatever happened to coupons, discounts and pass-me-ons ๐Ÿ™‚
    Am sure though there are cheaper alternatives if one just does a bit of research and price comparisons.

    • I know there are, and you don’t have to spend money on all the stuff the school asks you to like fundraisers or buying water bottles or school t-shirts.

  9. Maybe they fold in regular purchases like fall/winter clothes and shoes? Could that be it?
    I admit spent around $80-90 on lunch bags and boxes for my 2 kids starting school – I hate the cheap flimsy Disney stuff and prefer to spend more on good quality ones. But that was basically all the “pure” back-to-school stuff. If I had counted the winter jackets and a few sweaters, etc it would have added up to more I am sure (still not $350 since we get so many used clothing from friends with older kids that we hardly need to buy them stuff)

    • I have not idea. I saw a statistic today that said the average was $650. I hope that does count buying things like coats and/or any type of extra activities the kid may participate in.

  10. Ok. Not sure where u live but $20 would not even buy me the glue sticks required for my ki let alone 12 duo tangs, 24 notebooks, 2 pkgs markers, 2 ok gas pencil crayons, 1 scrapbook large…etc etc for another 36 items. Does your school supply items perhaps and that is why it costs so little? I’m not saying $350 is the norm but certainly $100-125 is. Ther is no way, not even bulk shopping at Costco that I could get all the supplies for $20.

    • Wow, I’m not even sure I know what all that stuff is! I’m not sure if it’s inexpensive now because of her being in first grade or if our district is just below average. I know some upper level math classes require expensive calculators or if she wants to do sports or band, there are expenses there. I have no problem with people spending whatever they want as long as they can afford it. Not being able to buy groceries because you bought school supplies is pretty poor planning in my opinion.

  11. I think that’s the effective lure of marketing at play right there. They do a good job, don’t they? It’s hard for me to say whether 350 is a lot or about average….but…if it’s that or eating, well then I think we have the answer.

  12. Appreciate the mention Kim…enjoy your Monday holiday!

  13. MomofTwoPreciousGirls

    I only spent about $100 total…my oldest headed to kindergarten this year! We start in August and it will be warm in GA until October so she is still wearing her summer clothes. All her jeans still fit from last year so our biggest clothing expense will probably be shoes throughout the year.
    Not sure about the statement “public school is cheap”! In this month I have been asked every week to spend money on various things! There were field trip fees, headphones for computer lab, donations to the classroom (on top of the supplies that were requested…all supplies are for the class not the student). There has been a spirit night every week at local businesses, book fair, picture day AND next week they will have a “bucks for bulldogs” fundraiser where they want parents to write checks (they are trying to raise $27k!!!!!). Holy freaking moly!

    • I certainly agree that it nickle and dimes you to death, but you can also choose not to do any of that stuff, although you might get the stink eye from the PTA. Even if we did buy all the stuff and participate in every event, it is still way cheaper than day care, and it is amazing how much they learn.

      We have teacher friends who took jobs at a very high end private school in Korea (think Samsung electronics’ kids). It costs $30K per year to attend, plus it is so competitive that they have to try and get the kids to relax and watch something on TV or play a video game. They go to school and then sign up for hours of extra tutoring or study until late in the evening. I do wish American schools had a little more of that drive, but there has to be a happy medium in there somewhere.

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