If you're shopping for school supplies, maybe not much

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Soon-to-be seventh-grader Emie McNicholas will use every pocket in her new backpack just to get all her supplies to the classroom when school starts next week.

In the not so distant past, all the school supplies a kid needed that first day fit into a container the size of a cigar box.

Not any more. These days, a U-Haul trailer might be in order.

“It wasn’t like this when I was in school,” said Karen McNicholas, a Centennial neighborhood resident and mom to soon-to-be seventh grader, Emie. “We had a box of crayons, a PeeChee, a couple pencils, an eraser and maybe a bottle of Elmer’s Glue. Emie has to have 32 No. 2 pencils alone!”

McNicholas and Emie completed their school supply shopping recently and wound up spending right around $125. While clothing and shoes were yet to be purchased, Emie’s tab for school supplies is surprisingly near the national average per student.

Annually, the National Retail Federation (NRF), a worldwide trade association for retailers, polls parents at select times during the summer months to gauge their shopping trends related to back-to-school spending.

This year’s survey projected average school supply spending per child to be about $90. Forking over the cash to get a child ready for school makes back-to-school shopping the second most profitable period for retailers, slightly behind the holidays, according to the NRF.

Who wouldn’t rather be spending time and money on Christmas gifts instead of pencils, paper and Pink Pearls?

“That’s horrible!” McNicholas said, after learning the data supplied by the NRF. “I could take care of about 50 percent of my Christmas list with the money I’m spending on school supplies.”

When Emie’s supply list came out earlier this summer, McNicholas scanned the required items to see if anything purchased a year ago had survived. Backpack? No. Pens or pencils? No. Folders, binders, composition notebooks? No, no and no. Combination lock for a locker? Score!

“We do hang onto the things that aren’t destroyed,” McNicholas said. “But folders, backpacks and pencil pouches don’t last past the year. Zippers break and things get torn. I recycle what I can but usually, it’s only a stray pencil or two.” by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Back in the day, school supplies fit into a container the size of a cigar box. Today, its a hefty tower of multiple packages of paper, pencils and pocket-sized books.

While required supplies are a given, the hidden costs of back-to-school can be surprising to parents, especially as their student gets older. By the time they’re entering middle school or junior high, brand name clothing and shoes top the list of accelerating costs as kids strive to fit in and develop their individuality. But supporting the purpose of academics with the proper supplies and coughing up for the “extras” is a tricky balance, McNicholas said.

“The problem is that what’s on the list isn’t what the kids want,” she explained. “They want locker shelves, locker mirrors, mechanical pencils and girlie stuff. The things on the list are what’s required, but the extras add up.”

McNicholas conceded that Emie’s supply list for seventh grade was smaller than in years past. But as the mom of a 20-year-old daughter as well, McNicholas remembers that by high school, supply lists disappear. Which only means the big ticket items are yet to come.

“Each year, Emie’s three-ring binders have gotten more expensive and next year, she’ll need a scientific calculator,” McNicholas said. “We did get Emie a tablet for her required reading in English last year because there’s no bookstore out here anymore and it was getting harder to get her books. I’d go out to Barnes and Noble and sometimes, the book was on backorder. The library didn’t always have the book either. But we did find that downloading the book was a couple dollars cheaper than ordering it through Amazon. Emie can use it to take her spelling pre-test online and she is taking notes on the tablet now.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - The National Retail Federation cites back-to-school shopping as the second most profitable period for retailers, slightly behind the holidays. Outfitting a child for the first day of school these days extends well beyond simply new shoes, a pair of jeans and a small box of essential stuff. But as Emie and her mom packed all those required supplies into a brand new backpack, one has to wonder if a course in weight lifting was needed to carry it all.

“It’s not that heavy,” Emie said, “but it doesn’t mean I’m ready for summer to be over.”

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