Graphing calculators cost how much?! and other tales of back-to-school shopping stress

Back-to-school shopping can break the bank. That’s why United Way and its partners are teaming up to ease the burden on families in need.

$75.8 billion.

That’s how much American families are expected to spend on K-12 and college school supplies this year. According to the National Retail Foundation, this represents a jump of nearly $10 billion from last year.  The days of inexpensive notebook, pencil and protractor shopping sprees are over.

“Back-to-school shopping is a huge cost for families,” says Sarah Link, Vice President of Community Impact for United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “And if you’re from a low-income household, the financial pressure can be even greater.”

As children advance in their grades, the costs to outfit them with what they need to succeed rise exponentially. According to Time, a family with school-aged children can spend over $600 a year just on back-to-school shopping, with the majority of the outlays going towards clothes and electronics.

school-supplies-driveTo ease the cost burden for families in need, United Way routinely partners with groups and companies for school supply drives and backpack distribution events. Much more than a fun diversion to get people out of their cubicles, these drives are having a real impact on the community; kids who don’t have the proper supplies to complete school work are likely to fall even further behind.

In the Seacoast New Hampshire region, the Portsmouth United Way office runs the annual K-Ready Kids backpack drive and distribution. Aimed at young children going into kindergarten, K-Ready Kids equips them with free backpacks, books, and supplies. In 2016, over 1,500 backpacks were given to children in Rockingham and Strafford Counties in New Hampshire and Kittery and Eliot, Maine.

“Individuals and companies who host back-to-school supply drives remove a source of financial stress,” Link says. “Rather than experiencing the pressure of back to school time, families and children can experience joy and excitement because of the generosity of others.”

Interested in running a school supplies drive or having United Way coordinate a packing event? Contact Maggie Stryker at