Helen Xia, CHS Student Writer
What do you think of when you hear the term “back to school?” Undoubtedly, school requires a huge investment of time. Among such time-consuming attributes as seven-hour school days, piles of homework, and morning traffic, school rings another major bell in my mind: back-to-school shopping. Back-to-school doesn’t wait: On the first few days of July—summer had barely lasted for a month at that point—I saw back-to-school signs hanging on the ceilings of Walmart and Target. Abruptly, rows of decorative vases and towels were replaced with seas of backpacks, notebooks, and pens.
Despite the great number of school supplies stacked on these shelves each year, they don’t last very long—in my experience, at least. By mid-August, half of the shelves stood barren. I was impressed: That must be a lot of money, right?
At first, it doesn’t seem like a lot; however, $2.00 scissors and $3.00 packs of colored pencils add up quickly, especially if one decides to purchase everything new for the upcoming school year. Thus, to answer the question I asked earlier: Yes, that’s a lot of money.
According to research conducted by Capital One, a leading American bank holding company, “American families spent a total of $41.5 billion on K-12 back-to-school shopping in 2023.”
Yes, that number was in billions of dollars.
Initially, that number may not sound too bad. After all, there are a lot of children in the United States. Don’t worry, that number gets higher once you factor in back-to-college shopping. As explained by Capital One, “Americans spent a total of $135.5 billion for back-to-school and back-to-college shopping in 2023.” If you further break up the data, one child spent an average of $597 for back-to-school, and the average household spent more than $1,300 on back-to-college hauls.
To put the aforementioned numbers in perspective, in 2022, Starbucks’ net revenue was “only” 26.58 billion dollars, and Target’s 2022 net revenue came up to roughly 106 billion dollars. (Emphasis on the quotation marks around “only”; 26.58 billion dollars is by no means a little amount of money.) Both of these notorious companies made considerably less than what Americans spent on school necessities this year!
It’s worth noting that this incredible amount of money was not just for glue sticks and erasers. Those are the cheapest back-to-school shopping supplies. Most families included new clothes, electronics, and other essentials in their budgets for back-to-school shopping, which are certainly more costly than your typical school supplies. On new shoes alone, families spent an average of about $166.
It’s safe to say that parents and guardians aren’t the happiest spending hundreds of dollars annually, but what about the kids? Do they feel excited to use their new supplies?
One teenager discussed ignoring much of the school supply list this year. “I didn’t use most of it last year, so I don’t see the point in getting new stuff,” she remarked.
Another high schooler commented, “Imagine getting a new backpack every year. I still use mine from middle school. It’s doing its job.”
An elementary schooler was enthusiastic about his new school supplies. “I got a new supply case, and it locks and it has keys,” he told me. “The coolest part is that it makes noise when you scratch the front.”
I’m more with the elementary schooler on this one. In my opinion, fresh supplies symbolize a fresh start, and they “set the mood” for the rest of the year. Nothing feels like writing in a pristine notebook for the first time.
Regarding the attitude about returning to school in general, a teenager replied, “I’m really excited to go back to school. I’m looking forward to talking to my teachers and friends I haven’t been able to see this summer.”
On the flip side, a senior responded, “[I’m] happy that I have a year left. I’m looking forward to graduation, so I never have to come back.” I hate to admit it, but I kind of agree with him. While I like living in the small town of Thurmont, I’m anticipating experiencing life outside of its bounds.
Finally, a younger student described his worries for this academic year. “I don’t want to go to fourth grade,” he mentioned. After I asked him why, he answered, “Because it’s harder. Everything is harder [than third grade].”
Personally, I’ve had moments this year that led me to save a bit of money on materials for school. For instance, after showing my friend a picture of a $99.00 backpack I was debating on purchasing, he said, “I got mine for $20.00, and it lasted three years.” Hearing that, I decided to hold off on buying it—maybe I’ll invest that money toward a backpack for college instead.
Moreover, when shopping for my younger brother’s school supplies, I noticed how it called for exceptionally high numbers of things, such as six notebooks and four packs of loose-leaf paper. That’s a lot of paper, isn’t it? Most of the time, he returns home with notebooks that are mostly empty and other gadgets that were hardly touched. Don’t tell my parents, but I got him only five notebooks and three packs of paper.
With all of that being said, it’s definitely a privilege to be debating whether I want to buy a $100 backpack. Around this time, it’s great to see organizations such as churches and schools providing school supplies to students free of charge. As we’ve already observed, going down back-to-school supply lists is no inexpensive undertaking! Evidently, when humanity unites, beautiful things happen.
Well, this is my final year of K-12 school shopping, so I guess I better cherish it. Next year, I’ll have to shop for college. K-12 back-to-school shopping is enough of a headache, and I’m saying that with 12 years of experience! Scurrying through cluttered shelves and groups of shoppers for one specific item never gets easier.
I learned a lot researching this topic. Furniture, even for a dinky college dorm room, is expensive! A singular headboard can be upwards of $300, even $400! One thing’s for sure: I won’t be getting a headboard. When the time comes, I hope I won’t spend past the national average of $1,366.95 on back-to-college shopping, but I won’t make any promises yet.