WRENTHAM, Mass. – Public schools across the country are asking parents to buy more school supplies than ever before, prompting parents to seek out deals and fierce competition among retailers.

schoolsupplies“The average 2014 required school supply list now contains 18 items,” said Tim Sullivan, an expert on back-to-school shopping trends and founder of TeacherLists.com, a website that hosts school supply lists. “That’s a 29 percent increase from 2013 with almost the entire increase coming from more and more types of consumable supplies being added to lists. It’s not so much more glue and notebooks – it’s glue and notebooks plus tissues and re-sealable bags and hand wipes.”

The growing demand on parents is convincing many to look for deals earlier than before. According to the National Retail Federation’s 2013 Back-to-School Survey, “24 percent of consumers with children in grades K-12 last year said they began shopping for school items at least two months before school started, a significant increase from 15 percent in 2007.”

Parents are desperate for deals because many continue to struggle to make ends meet as the country’s economic recovery remains at a crawl. And while most likely don’t mind providing some extra supplies, particularly personal hygiene items, many school districts are also asking local property owners to contribute more to cover ever-increasing labor costs.

As a result, parents in a lot of districts are being squeezed both ways.

“We do know from our most recent survey conducted in June that 21 percent of those with children in elementary, middle or high school plan to spend less overall because of the current state of the economy,” the Retail Federation reports. “Budget priorities will also drive three in 10 to buy more store brand items, and another 45 percent plan to shop for sales more often. One-third of families will use coupons more often while shopping for school-related items.”

Companies, meanwhile, are paying close attention to school supply lists and are marketing their products to parents with an array of discounts or coupons to increase their share of the $5 billion school supply market, according to PR Newswire.

“It’s amazing how much the annual school supply list drives sales,” Sullivan said. “Teachers and schools often request generic glue or paper, but if they request a brand name there’s usually a reason for that preference and parents follow suit. Brands know this and work hard to earn a spot on those lists.”

Unfortunately, teachers unions are also keen to trends in the school supply season and are using it to their political advantage. In a nonsensical protest of a recent deal to place more than 80 U.S. postal service centers in Staples stores, the National Education Association teachers union is calling on its members to boycott the supply chain. The American Federation of Teachers is expected to do the same thing at their annual convention this week.

The teachers unions apparently believe that standing with unionized postal employees – who are upset because Staples employs non-unionized workers – is more important than helping teachers and parents find the best deals possible with their limited resources.

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