The impact of historical inflation rates on US consumers is undeniable. In the twelve months ending June 2022, the cost of goods and services climbed 9.1%. Such price hikes have put extreme pressure on consumers, especially families preparing for the upcoming school year.
A new back-to-school shopping survey conducted by Bankrate found that 41% of back-to-school shoppers say inflation will change their shopping habits for the next school year. Of this group, a remarkable 95% are exploring money saving strategies.
Ready for a back-to-school shopping plan that’s right for you? Here’s what others are doing and how you can best manage the expenses ahead.
Middle-income people brace for the biggest changes
Although nearly everyone in the United States is feeling the financial pinch, middle-income consumers are making these back-to-school shopping adjustments at the fastest rate: 53% of those with annual household incomes between $50 $000 and $99,999 a year say they will change their spending because of inflation. This compares to 39% of high-income households (earning $100,000 or more per year) and 37% of low-income households (earning less than $50,000 per year).
Middle-income households are also more likely to use money-saving tactics like buying used/second-hand items (28% vs. 21% of low-income households and 23% of middle-income households high), the stretch of standard items by another year (32%). vs. 28% of low-income and high-income households) and to seek out more coupons, discounts and sales (50% vs. 46% of low-income and 43% of high-income households).
How to reduce the cost of school expenses
If you’re like most Americans, shopping for school expenses is a major retail event. According to National Retail Federation Annual Surveyfamilies with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 on school supplies this year.
Trying to cover those costs takes a heavy toll on American families who are already struggling to manage more expensive household items. Bankrate’s survey found that 31% of back-to-school shoppers expect these purchases to strain their budget, and 26% say they feel pressured to spend more than they want.
Such financial stress comes as no surprise, given the higher costs consumers face. A February 2022 Bankrate survey found that 93% of Americans experienced higher prices in the past year, and nearly 3 in 4 (73%) worried about new or continued price increases on basic necessities over the next year.
Fortunately, there are achievable ways to stretch your dollars. Bankrate’s survey found that inflation-conscious back-to-school shoppers plan to take steps to offset higher costs:
- 54% plan to search for more coupons, discounts and sales.
- 45% plan to buy fewer school items (supplies, clothes, etc.).
- 43% plan to buy cheaper brands.
- 39% plan to expand the items they currently have for another year.
- 37% plan to shop at stores where they have store-specific loyalty accounts or credit cards.
- 30% plan to buy used and used items.
- 25% plan to use credit card rewards to offset costs.
- 21% plan to delay purchases.
- 4% plan to employ another cost-cutting technique.
“I think all of the money-saving strategies referenced in our survey are worth considering,” says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate. “I especially like looking for opportunities to accumulate discounts, such as combining credit card rewards with store coupons and online shopping portals. That’s three ways to save on the same purchase.
How consumers are financing back to school
So how will shoppers pay for their groceries? Of those planning to shop for back to school this year, more than half (57%) will use a debit card to pay for those purchases, followed by cash (47%) and a credit card (46 %). Less common payment options include buy-it-now and pay-later services (14%) and checks (9%).
Credit card users vary in how they’ll pay for back-to-school purchases: 30% plan to pay in full on their statement date and 21% plan to spread payments over multiple billing cycles.
However, it is important to keep debt to a minimum, especially as inflation rages on. Credit card balances tend to increase as people try to fill financial gaps. August 2022 from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York household debt and credit report identified a 13% year-over-year increase in credit card balances, the largest increase in 20 years. With credit card interest rates also on the rise, the cost of carrying a credit card balance from one month to the next can increase rather than alleviate financial stress.
Although using cash for purchases, including paying a credit card bill in full, is a good way to avoid interest, the survey found that only 33% of back-to-school shoppers expect to have money set aside specifically for these purchases.
Use the right credit cards for back-to-school purchases
In addition to careful spending strategies, back-to-school shoppers can cut costs and avoid costly credit card debt by using the right payment products.
Reward credit cards are great tools. You can use a cash back card to accumulate money when you bill for back-to-school expenses and then use the money you earned to pay the bill or buy other necessary items. Credit cards that offer point rewards can also be beneficial. Most issuers allow cardholders to redeem points for cash or gift cards, and if there’s a shopping portal, you can redeem the rewards for products.
Applying for a new credit card can also help. Look for credit cards with big sign-up bonuses. The best credit card sign-up bonuses can earn you several hundred dollars in cash or points that you can use for purchases, reducing your expenses.
Another option is a credit card with an introductory APR of 0%. These are great products if you need to pay back your back-to-school expenses over time. The best 0% APR intro deals give you over a year to pay off the balance with no additional finance charges. Just be sure to pay the balance in full before the regular rate kicks in.
The bottom line
No one knows when inflation will come down and costs will come down or even stabilize. Although the prices of consumer goods are out of your control, how you buy and pay for back-to-school items is something you can control. Use spending strategies that make sense for you and your family. Whenever possible, eliminate consumer debt before interest applies and use credit cards to work for you rather than against you.
Bankrate.com has commissioned YouGov Plc to carry out the investigation. All figures unless otherwise stated are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 2,438 adults, of which 729 plan to go back to school shopping. The fieldwork was undertaken between 13 and 15 July 2022. The survey was conducted online and meets rigorous quality standards. It used a non-probability sample using upstream quotas during collection and then a downstream weighting scheme designed and tested to provide nationally representative results.