On Your Side goes shopping for school supplies to see if inflation is affecting parents’ budgets

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — On Your Side went shopping for school supplies to see just what parents might be up against as the school year begins. Susan Campbell went to Walgreens and Walmart, while Gary Harper went to Target and Staples.

Their list is from a third-grade classroom in Tempe and there are 12 must-haves including pencils. The school says Ticonderoga brand pencils are preferred, so that’s what they bought. At Walmart, Susan found a 48-pack for $9.96. At Target and Staples, Gary found 24-packs of pencils for $3.99. The stores did not sell a 48-pack.

This year, the National Retail Federation says families will spend $864 on back-to-school shopping. That’s up from $849 last year. Before the pandemic in 2019, families spent less than $700 to go back to school.

And this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, 38% of families say inflation is forcing them to cut back on other spending to cover back-to-school costs. “It’s interesting. If you look at the ads, there aren’t the crazy deals that there are a lot of years,” Alicia Markham told On Your Side. Her site, DealsinAZ.Com tracks retail sales.

She says while things like clothes and electronics are more expensive this year, some of the school supply basics are still deeply discounted. We found a 24-pack of crayons for just 50 cents, which is the same price we paid back in 2019 for a back-to-school shopping story. Stores use deals like this to lure you into the store.

“They want you to come in and they want you to buy these things,” Markham explained. “And they want you to buy other things. So if it gets you in the door, you’ll see seven other things that you didn’t even know you needed. But, if you stay focused and you look for the 50-cent case, you can do really well and get your school supplies for not a whole lot of money.”

So here’s the bottom line: It’s hard to make a direct comparison because the quantities in packages are a little bit different. Remember, some stores carried 24-packs of pencils while others had the 48-pack variety. And at Staples, 120 sheets of paper cost 85 cents. At Target, you’ll get 175 sheets of paper for the same price.

But when we compared our shopping trips with all 12 items, all four stores were within a few dollars of each other. Walmart was $29.58, Target was $26.58, Staples was $26.10 and Walgreens was $38.72.

Coming up in our next On Your Side report, Gary and Susan are putting their in-store purchases up against Amazon to see if there are any better deals online.

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