How Much Should School Supplies Cost a Family?

Are You Asking For Too Much?

This is a question we encounter often with our partner schools. How much is too much, when asking parents or guardians to cover school supplies? Many factors should be considered in answering this question. Here are a few common considerations we’ve covered with our partner schools.

Collection of school supplies

Free & Reduced Lunch Percentage

A commonly used parameter to assess the ability for parents and guardians in a particular school community to afford supplies is the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch programs within a district or specific school itself. According to the National School Lunch Program, one of the largest providers of student lunches across the nation, 76.9 percent of students across the country qualify for a free or reduced lunch program. This percentage changes dramatically from school to school, and your district administrators should be able to share this information. Additionally, local government entities should also be able to provide household income information among families in a given region.

Are You Asking For Everything At Once?

It’s typical for teachers to ask families to come fully prepared on the first day of school with supplies for an entire school year, or by an open house date prior to the start of a school year. This can be challenging for two reasons. Many big box stores take advantage of the demand and increase prices accordingly during the summer months. Additionally, this one-time spend expectation (especially for families with multiple children), can be difficult to budget and plan for. Providing the school supply lists to parents and guardians early in the year can help alleviate these pain points.

What Are Teachers Spending Out of Pocket?

According to a survey conducted by Adopt a Classroom, teachers spent an average of $750 out of pocket to support their classroom in 2021. 30 percent of teachers spent $1,000+ on school supplies, and teacher spending has increased 25 percent since the organization began surveying teachers in 2015. Often, these teachers receive little or no reimbursement from their school employer. Understanding what teachers in your school are spending on classroom supplies is a critical factor in understanding how much parents or guardians or the school should cover. Ideally, this number would be $0, and the gap in resources would be covered through other avenues, like PTO/PTA fundraising.

Shopping carts

What are Teachers Asking Parents and Guardians to Spend?

According to the National Retail Federation, families spend on average $130+ per student on school supplies alone (not including clothes, technology, or activity fees). Depending on the financial demographics of your school community, this can make school supply shopping a huge burden—especially for families with multiple children.

There are also hidden costs associated with back-to-school supply shopping. A common tactic used by big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target is to offer specific, well-known products—like Crayola crayons, or Ticonderoga pencils—as “loss leaders”. This means the product is priced low in order to attract customers, but other necessary items are priced high, and parents overspend in other areas.

Online retailers like Amazon have become increasingly popular in the past few years. Parents and guardians are often disappointed to find products can only be purchased in bulk quantities, or the price for singular items is much more expensive due to shipping costs being baked into the cost of the product.

Lastly, a cost consideration is time. For increasingly complex and lengthy school supply lists, parents and guardians often might spend several hours shopping at multiple retailers to fulfill the required items. Some parents and guardians are able to coupon shop throughout the summer to achieve the best possible price for supplies, but the vast majority of parents and guardians don’t have the time or patience for that strategy.

Crayons spread out on notebook

What’s a Good Baseline Cost to Aim For?

Knowing all of the information above, what should a good baseline cost for a school supply kit be? This is largely dependent on your location, school population demographic, and grade. Generally speaking, school supplies increase in cost each year from pre-kindergarten through first grade. Number of supplies, and therefore cost, peaks during second, third, and fourth grade. School supply requirements begin to descend from there. For a comprehensive list of supplies per grade, check out this resource.

Generally speaking, the school supply kits we prepare for our partner schools average around $50. Pre-kindergarten through first grade may be more aligned with $30, whereas second through fourth grade may average closer to the $70 range. Some schools aim to create equity within the classroom by either covering school supply costs entirely, or by subsidizing the cost down to a more affordable level. We’ve seen schools ask parents and guardians to cover roughly $20 per student, and the school supports the remainder through fundraising and other means.

One of the best things you can do as a teacher or school administrator is research to better understand what you’re asking your families to buy. You may be surprised by which products are dramatically increasing the cost for each student. Items like Ziploc® bags and Clorox® Wipes might not seem like a big ask, but those items often end up being the most expensive on the list. Need help? We can quote out the school supply lists for you.

girl opens school supply kit

Prepackaged, Customized School Supply Kits

Impacks offers prepackaged school supply kits tailored to each partner school, and each grade within that school. Our goal is to give parents and guardians convenient access to affordable school supplies. When we partner with a school, we create a custom portal page for that school where parents and guardians can access their child’s upcoming grade school supply kit. This removes the burden for parents and guardians who might spend hours shopping at multiple stores or online , and ensures the teachers get exactly what they need to provide an optimal learning experience in every classroom, for every student. We also offer an optional fundraising program to help raise money for critical needs within a school. Many schools leverage those dollars to help provide supplies for students in need. Impacks is free for schools to use. Interested in learning more? Start the conversation today.

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