Back-to-school supplies are a little more expensive — and complicated

Aug 11, 2017

You’re not imagining it — you are paying more for back-to-school supplies than last year.

Parents on average will spend about $500 per child this year, according to a yearly survey by Deloitte. That's up from $488 last year. This year's back-to-school shopping season is expected to pull in $27 billion in sales, the survey said.

That’s a lot of pencils, glue sticks and hand wipes. The sheer volume of materials on some lists can be surprising.

“I have two kids, and new school supplies for back to school for these two kids in public school cost me $150, and that doesn't include any backpacks,”  Laura Strate of Indianapolis told us. “I don't know why a first grader needs 12 jumbo glue sticks plus four more for Spanish and art class. I bought six boxes of 24 crayons for one kid.”

Waiting for back-to-school discounts can save money, but you run the risk of losing out on the last pack of college-ruled paper and driving around to find one. It can all be stressful for a parent getting ready for the start of the school year.

But one parent saw a business opportunity in the chaotic ritual.

Mike Meadows, a father of three, founded 1st Day School Supplies, a Medina, Ohio, online service that does the shopping and delivery for parents.

“The lists through the years have gotten more complicated,” Meadows said. “They pushed more supplies on parents, such as towels, and tissues, and hand sanitizers, and ancillary items like calculators, and earbuds, and flash drives, and specialty art projects, right?”

He said his company will get the specific items a teacher has requested and package them.

 “We put them in a beautiful box — almost gift wrapped, if you will — and we deliver it to the school so that on the first day of school, the child will have their own box of school supplies sitting on their desk, ready to go,” he said.

Brandon Smith of Cleveland ordered his kids’ supplies from 1st Day School Supplies in early April.

“The stuff is shipped right to their school,” he said. “It cost about 96 bucks, which I know can be a little bit expensive, but they have very specific items that they need, be it 48 sharpened pencils for my daughter or seven or eight folders for my son. And it was just more convenient for me than to be in a big box store fighting for folders and glue sticks that last week before school starts.”

The company serves schools all over the country and next year will package about 6 million items, Meadows said.

“We have some schools that require 75 items, and the kits range in $110 a kit. And then we have other schools that have 35 items in it. It might be closer to $40 a kit.” Meadows said some schools will add to the price and make the kits a fundraiser. Many schools also donate kits to children in need, he said.