During back-to-school season (that would be now), organizations and companies survey U.S. families to try to gauge what they plan to spend per child on items such as clothing, shoes, electronics and school supplies. This year, the results range from $221 per child nationwide predicted by the coupons website Promocodes.com, to $722 per child spent specifically by New Yorkers, according to the consulting firm Deloitte.
No matter how you measure it, one thing is clear: Parents are dropping a chunk of change. According to the National Retail Federation, this year will be record-breaking, both for families with students in grades K to 12 and families with students in college.
Here’s how three families on Long Island meet their back-to-school needs:
MEET THE FAMILY Sandra Proto, 52, a stay-at-home mother from Valley Stream, her husband, Robert, 49, who works for Social Security, and daughters Alberta, 12, a rising eighth-grader, and Nicole, 11, a rising seventh-grader.
SPENDING ESTIMATE $500 to $550 on each child.
CLOTHES First Sandra Proto goes through the girls’ clothes with them to see what still fits, and then they shop to fill in needs. “As they’ve been getting older, their taste has changed on which stores they would like to go to,” Proto says. They’re now hitting H & M and Old Navy instead of Justice or Children’s Place. “It becomes more expensive,” Proto says. She can’t get away with handing down clothes from one to the other anymore. “The younger one may not want those clothes,” she says.
SHOES Both girls like Vans, and Alberta likes vintage boots. “If they want an expensive pair of sneakers, they’ll pay out of their money for that, birthday money or Christmas money,” Proto says.
ELECTRONICS Both girls have phones already, and they share the house computer. Proto isn’t supplying them each with a laptop at this point, she says.
SCHOOL SUPPLIES “As far as school supplies, I’m very happy,” Proto says. “Now that they’re in junior high school, the list is cut. It’s minimal.”
MEET THE FAMILY Lisa Abrams, 48, a stay-at-home mother, and her husband Steven, 49, a sales manager, of East Northport. They have nine children. Three are in college: Gabrielle, 21, a rising senior at Marist College, Zachary, 19, a rising sophomore at Binghamton University, and Matthew, 18, about to begin his first year at SUNY Cortland. Two are in high school: Cameron, 16, a rising junior, and Brayden, 14, a rising freshman. The others are Chase, 12, a rising eighth grader, Payton, 11, a rising sixth-grader, Landon, 9, a rising fourth-grader, and Raelyn, 7, a rising second-grader.
SPENDING ESTIMATE Maybe $400 per child — more for the college kids. Abrams says she won't even begin shopping for clothing for the younger ones, for instance, until all the older ones have left for college.
COLLEGE SUPPLIES “I have one daughter who thinks she’s furnishing a penthouse apartment, and my son who just asked for contact lenses and toothpaste,” jokes Abrams. “She wanted us to take another car [for all her things]. She seriously has artwork on her walls and she needs 20 pillows.” Zachary, on the other hand, came home with all the supplies she sent him with last year, such as Clorox wipes and Costco-sized boxes of snacks. “That’s how I’m used to buying stuff," Abrams says. "I buy cases.”
ELECTRONICS "This year, my son Matthew got a laptop," says Abrams. "That was 1,500 bucks. It's almost worse than Christmas shopping."
SCHOOL SUPPLIES “That became ridiculous,” Abrams says. “My kids need 6,000 pencils for the first day of school. I felt like we were sharpening pencils forever. My little treat for myself is an electric pencil sharpener. We use it like somebody who is running a big office building.” It’s especially frustrating when a teacher asks for a certain brand, Abrams says. “This pencil writes just as good as that,” she says. She doesn’t send the kids with everything the teachers ask for on the first day, she says. For instance, if the list asks for six glue sticks, she will send the kids with half to start out.
MEET THE FAMILY Anubha Goel, 38, a physical therapist, her husband, Ashish, 41, a software professional, of Plainview, and daughters Ojasvi, 9, a rising fifth-grader, and Vanya, 5, a rising first-grader, both in elementary school.
SPENDING ESTIMATE $100 to $150 maximum on each child this year.
CLOTHES “Clothes we do little by little, whenever I see good deals,” Anubha Goel says. “We go to Justice, we go to Target, I even picked up a few cute things from Costco.”
SHOES “I find shoe shopping for back to school the biggest struggle,” she says. “The girls are picky. My kids like Merrells [brand shoes]." She shops for them online. “I try to look for deals but I haven’t found any yet.”
ELECTRONICS “My older one will get a Chromebook from the school, so I don’t have to spend money on that,” Goel says. As for the younger daughter: “We don’t indulge in all those things yet. She’s younger, and we try to limit screen time.”
SCHOOL SUPPLIES Goel went through leftovers from last school year before shopping for more. “We don’t have too much to buy this year,” she says. Marshalls was running a great promotion on backpacks, she says, and the girls each picked out a backpack and lunch box there.
90 minutes in the mall = $178.50
The battle of the jeans ended in a draw.
Nicole Proto, 11, a rising seventh- grader from Valley Stream, was determined to get a pair of jeans with rips in them during her first back-to-school shopping trip of the summer with mother Sandra and older sister Alberta, 12, a rising eighth-grader. “It’s different from regular jeans because it gives them style,” Nicole argued. Alberta explained her parents’ opposition to them: “They think it’s kind of inappropriate. They think it shows too much skin.”
After Nicole tried on several pairs of jeans at Tillys in Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, Sandra Proto agreed Nicole could buy one pair with rips and one pair without, in part because of an appealing “Buy-One-Get-One-Half-Price” sale on the $29.99 pants. But Nicole may have to agree to wear leggings under the jeans with rips, Sandra warned.
During one 90-minute trip to the mall, Proto spent $178.50 on the clothing for the girls. Nicole’s jeans were $47.06 at Tillys; each girl got a black sweater with a small, silver Mickey Mouse ears icon in the corner for a total of $20.09 at H & M, and both girls got a pair of black leggings and a knit sweater at Garage for a total of $111.35. Proto's pocketbook benefitted from buy-one-get-one-half price at both Tillys and Garage.
The biggest challenge of back-to-school clothes shopping: “Trying to figure out what they need as opposed to what they want,” Proto says. “They want everything.” She's hoping to keep overall spending to $1,100 total.
Still on the list of needs for the girls: shoes and sneakers and school supplies.