A few months back I wrote about how parents were facing higher-than-ever bills for summer camp for our offspring who were too young to stay home by themselves or get jobs that would pay for their own babysitters.
The consensus seemed to be that those of us with kids in public school were all just gutting through June, July and most of August until those kids go back to class and learn stuff somewhere that’s free.
Or is it?
Trundling my son off to school with his backpack and new Batman lunchbox will not cost nearly as much as the average $400 I spent a week for camp and child care this summer, and I got off easy considering that the national average was $900. But that trip back to normal comes with a pricey exit fee — back-to-school costs.
I’m feeling a little like Old Michael Corleone in “The Godfather, Part III.” Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. And they need new shoes!
This year, a Deloitte survey found that because of inflation, parents will spend an average of $661 per child between clothing and school supplies, according to Fortune Magazine, up 8% from 2021 and a stunning 27% from 2019. The year 2020 obviously wasn’t mentioned, because so many kids were still learning at home, and I personally mostly invested in shirts without holes for my son to wear over his pajama pants because even getting him up in time for Zoom morning announcements was a struggle.
That average cost looked high to me, but then I considered not only the varied costs of living around the country, but the varied needs of each kid, depending on how old they are and what they already had. Supplies and clothes cost more if you’re starting from scratch. Before I even started shopping for my son, who is entering third grade, I knew it was going to be less expensive than second grade, which was not only his first year in school here in Baltimore, but his first in-person since the start of COVID in March 2020. We wouldn’t need all new everything — his backpack, for instance, is in perfect condition. But other things are worn out or need a big-boy third grade update.
I knew the comparison between summer and school wasn’t exactly apples to oranges. The cost of what you buy for the first day is spread out over the next nine months, allowing for replacements necessitated by growth spurts and a need to doodle on ones khakis until they are officially called the Doodle Pants. (Yes, that’s a real-life example.)
So I settled on adding up everything I spent on this year just to get my little dude out the door when Baltimore City Public Schools start. That includes the list of supplies that his school requested for third graders, which covers both the pens, notebooks and folders he will use personally and things that his classroom will need like tissues, paper towels and a giant bottle of hand sanitizer. I don’t mind spending on money on that stuff. The friend I went to Target with told me what when she was a Baltimore City teacher in the ’90s, she spent an average of $1,000 a year on those supplies herself. Teachers do so much. The least I can do is spring for the big thing of Kleenex .
I also must note, for accuracy and math and all that science stuff, that these numbers don’t include the cost of school lunch, which for us will average about $20 a week, and after-school care, which this year could be anywhere from free to $150 a week, depending on my work schedule and the availability of babysitters.
My first stop was Amazon, after I did the dreaded pre-shopping deep dive into my child’s dresser drawers to get the specifics of the small, the smudged and the doodled-on. The haul: a new bag of socks, because life is too short to spend crying in the laundry room trying to match Spider-Man socks; a box of kid-sized K95 masks because we are still in a pandemic; three slightly big polo shirts of the school’s preferred color and three pairs of khakis that turned out to be too large, but will do just fine with a belt, three rolls of the cuffs and a long shirt until he grows into them better. My total came to $91, which seemed expensive but decent.
The second stop was a Target run, which wasn’t a shock, since they have everything I need in one place and because it’s where I seem to spend so much of my time and money. I knew I needed the stuff on the school’s list, which besides the aforementioned stuff included erasers, composition books, dry erase markers, two boxes of resealable bags, wipes, pens and snacks. I also added a pair of boy jeans and that Batman lunch bag. That all came to about $86, a shocker since almost no trip to Target comes in at less than $100.
Again, we’re recycling a lot of stuff from last year because Mommy’s not made of money and I get almost perverse joy out of bargains. So the grand total I spent for back to school: $177. It’s still a lot of money, though the true cost of my kid’s education is priceless. But it does carry a price tag, and I’ll be happy to shift that camp money to other purposes, like apple cider and pumpkins and Halloween wigs. You know. Educational things.