As summer winds down and school supplies fly off store shelves, parents across Central Wisconsin are finding higher prices on everything from backpacks and notebooks to shoes and clothing as they get their children ready for the first day of school.
It's not really all that surprising, parents say, as prices on everything from gas to groceries to rent, have all been on the rise across the country due to inflation.
Melissa Diaz of Stevens Point has four children in grades kindergarten through seventh grade. They haven't done their back-to-school shopping yet, but plan to head to Target and Walmart in the next week.
Diaz said she usually spends between $200 to $300 to get them ready, but she's expecting prices to be higher this year.
"I do think it will be surprising, but we will absorb it somehow," she said.
According to the National Retail Federation, 38 percent of consumers say they are cutting back in other spending areas to cover the cost of school supplies, viewing it as an essential category. The NRF expects back-to-school spending to equal 2021's record high of $37 billion. Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 getting prepared for school, which is approximately $15 more than last year, but grossly different than the pre-pandemic expectations. Today's expected spending is $168 more than 2019 expectations, with total spending up $11 billion.
Jennifer Bushman of Stevens Point is sending two elementary students and one middle schooler back to school next month. She completed her shopping early and was surprised at how little she needed because she had a lot of leftover supplies from the years of e-learning.
Before she even stepped in a store, she did an inventory of what supplies she already had. For the supplies she did need, she noticed inflation had made its mark.
"Things were definitely pricier than before," Bushman said.
'Numbers are through the roof'
As inflation continues to impact local families and back-to-school costs increase, local United Way organizations also are seeing an uptick in registration for assistance with school supplies.
"Numbers are through the roof," said Amy Fluno, a program director for the United Way of South Wood & Adams Counties.
Last year, the organization had 600 registrations for their Stuff the School Bus program. This year that number nearly doubled, with 1,050 students seeking help. The program aids students of the Wisconsin Rapids, Port Edwards and Nekoosa school districts.
Families can apply if they are enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program, but Fluno said no one who registers is rejected.
Fluno is not sure if this year’s donations will cover the need, but she is hoping the influx of monetary donations will make the difference.
The numbers have also jumped in Marshfield. The Marshfield Area United Way’s Supplies for Success program registrations are up nearly 10 percent, with 670 requests.
Executive Director Ashley Winch was expecting the rise, because she has seen an increase in the number of visitors to the food pantry and pleas for gas money.
“I’m sure it’s inflation and the cost of goods in general,” she said. “Parents are spending more on essentials.”
This year has been tricky for Wausau's Fill a Backpack Fill a Need program, which helps school districts and organizations across Marathon County. They send supplies to the schools, and the schools distribute them to students in need. This year they are going off of 2019's numbers, which is about 4,000 orders, but even those were difficult to fill.
"COVID did such a number on us," said Fill a Backpack Chair Kristina Barbier. "We are still trying to recover."
The COVID years depleted the stockpile Barbier relies on to fill the orders for the next year. Donations didn't come in as strongly during the years of social distancing and at-home learning, so those extra supplies were not there. Usually, the organization has 10 to 20 pallets of supplies leftover.
"This is the year where it finally hit, we didn't get what we needed," Barbier said.
She said this year they were 50 backpacks short. Fill a Backpack relies on sponsorships from the community, grant money and donations from local residents to meet the need.
"Our children have so many challenges already," Barbier said. "At least we can check the box so they can have a backpack."
How much does an average school supply list cost?
Target.com offers a School List Assist feature that allows you to search for your school and grade level. It then generates a list of items to add to your cart based on the school supply list.
USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin staff looked at school supply lists for a first-grader, seventh-grader and high school freshman in Central Wisconsin, and here's what we found.
Editor's note: The Target assist feature does steer the buyer to name-brand items, but cheaper alternatives are available if you do a search on the site.
► First grade at Madison Elementary in the Stevens Point Area School District
32 items for $93.02, including tax.
Some items in the cart were on sale including two-count glue sticks for 55 cents, a two-pack of plastic pocket folders for 50 cents and two 24-count boxes of crayons for $1.
The list specified brand names such as Crayola, Elmer's glue and Expo markers for the required supplies. It did not include a backpack.
► Seventh grade at John Muir Middle School in the Wausau School District
36 items for $204.97, including tax.
This cost includes optional items on the list such as pens, Sharpies and markers.
The most expensive items are the athletic shirt, shoes and pants for physical education.
► Ninth grade at Lincoln High School in the Wisconsin Rapids School District
High school lists are more difficult to determine because the classes and requirements vary for each class and teacher. Multiple high school websites suggests students come to school with folders, notebook, pens and pencils. Students should receive required supplies for their individual courses from their teachers on the first day of classes.
Lincoln High School offers a list including nonmandatory supplies. The nonmandatory supplies are included in the cost estimate.
35 items for $179.60, including tax.
A backpack, gym shoes and clothes for physical education class make up $110 of this total.
How you can help
If you are able to help provide school supplies to students in need, local school supply drives are still accepting donations of supplies and money.
► Fill a Backpack Fill a Need in Wausau accepts donations year-round. Items can be dropped off in the lobby of J & D Tube Benders at 8951 Enterprise Way in Schofield. The business is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
► United Way of Portage County's Project Fresh Start is collecting items at their office at 1100 Centerpoint Drive in Stevens Point. Their office is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Their website also posts a link to an Amazon Wish List. Find more information and give a monetary donation on their website.
► Marshfield Area United Way’s Supplies for Success program is collecting school supplies at their office at 612 W. Blodgett St. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visit their website for a list of needed supplies and more information.
► United Way of South Wood and Adams Counties' Stuff the Bus program is accepting donations at their office at 351 Oak St. in Wisconsin Rapids. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visit their website for more information.
Where you can find school supply lists
Athens: Lists are located on each school's website under the "Parent Resources" tab.
D.C. Everest: School lists are found on the district website.
Edgar: School lists are found on the district website.
Marathon: Lists are located on the district website under the "Families" tab.
Mosinee: Lists are located on the district website on the drop-down menu that appears by clicking the "Schools" tab.
Spencer: Lists are found on the district website by choosing a specific school under the "Schools" tab.
Stratford: Lists are found near the bottom of each school's homepage.
Wausau: Lists are found on the district website.
Almond-Bancroft: Lists are found on the district website.
Central Sands Community High School: Lists are being emailed to students.
Stevens Point: Lists for all the district schools are found on the district's website.
Tomorrow River: School supply lists are found here.
Auburndale: Lists can be found on the district website by choosing a specific school under the "Schools" tab.
Nekoosa: School lists are found here.
Pittsville: School lists for kindergarten through eighth grade are found here.
Port Edwards: School lists can be found on the district website under the "Students/Parents" tab.
Wisconsin Rapids: School lists for all of the district schools can be found here.
Contact USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporter Jennifer Poyer at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Wausau Daily Herald: How much does back-to-school supply shopping cost in Central Wisconsin