July 14, 2024


Shopping, Clothing & Fashion

Back-to-school shopping is getting more expensive. How Long Island parents are balancing necessities and trends.

Back-to-school shopping is getting more expensive. How Long Island parents are balancing necessities and trends.

Back-to-school shopping goes on year-round for Danielle Goggin. The Dix Hills mom says she buys things seasonally for her three children, aged 4, 7 and 9, rather than making one giant shopping trip.     

As parents all over Long Island think about what their kids need this school year, Goggin, a special-education teacher, says she’s only concerned with fall. She’s not thinking about winter coats because her children “are at an age where they’re growing so fast, if I buy clothes for December now, we risk not having them fit.”

With prices on the rise, most parents want to avoid that kind of misstep. A survey by the National Retail Federation shows shoppers will spend “record amounts” on back-to-school shopping this year, reaching $41.5 billion, up from $36.9 billion last year. The survey found that families with children in elementary through high school will spend an average of $890.07 on back-to-school items this year per household, a new high, about $25 more than last year’s record of $864.35.

Shopping picked up mid-July “because kids are coming home from camp,” says Spencer Klein, an owner of Denny’s, a chain of children’s shops. And, yes, he acknowledges prices are up. “Things in general are more expensive,” he says. “You go to the gas pump, it’s more. You go to the supermarket, it’s more.” Klein says the store is working with vendors to keep prices down, but he notes a tough retail market with many unknowns, like late deliveries.

Families may spend an average of


per household, with the most being spent on

electronics, clothing and shoes,

according to a National Retail Federation survey.

“Everything’s just a little more expensive,” says Westbury resident Susan Stewart, whose 9-year-old daughter attends St. Aidan in Williston Park. Like most parents, Stewart watches for sales and coupon codes. And since uniforms are required at St. Aidan, Stewart says she has become adept at letting out hems and moving buttons “to get another year out of the outfit.”

Convenience is most important for Jessica Bartels, a Commack mom of two who describes herself as a “necessity type of shopper.” Bartels, who works in marketing, says she replaces things as they run low, or when they’re outgrown, but avoids a big shopping trip for all new clothes. “If they still fit into what they wore last year, we’re good to go.”

She prefers shopping online for her kids, aged 5 and 9, because it’s easier. “I have very energetic children, so taking them out shopping is a burden.” And, she adds, shopping online actually ends up saving money because it’s easier to say no. “I let them look online and they can pick from three choices.”

Candice O’Brien, 55, retired NYPD detective of East Northport, and daughter Casey O’Brien, 16

  • $400 on school uniform and shoes
  • $40 JanSport backpack
  • $25-$30 on folders and notebooks
  • Total: $470

Casey, who’s going into junior year at St. Anthony’s in South Huntington, collects school supplies from her softball team and from Facebook parent pages to donate to the Sharing Table at the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack. “You need school supplies in order to succeed. Every student deserves to have that. Every kid deserves a shot in the classroom,” Casey says.

Goggin starts her shopping midsummer, when she orders supplies like pencils and notebooks from the school district. Everything the teacher requested comes in a box, labeled with your child’s name, she says. “I’s the greatest thing ever,” she says. And she saves money in the long run — and time. It cuts out running around “to find that last box of Crayola markers,” she says, and the kids don’t get tempted “by all those fun folders and pencil cases.”

At Denny’s Plainview on a recent Saturday, back-to-school shoppers seemed drawn to activewear. Flannel is big for girls, says store manager Aileen Schreiber, grabbing a pair of pants that look suspiciously like pajamas.

“That’s what they wear to school,” she says.

Boys are heavily into sports — Air Jordan, Nike, team jerseys — and all the kids love rock ’n’ roll, she notes, pointing to a display of Pink Floyd and Def Leppard tees (never mind that the kids might hardly know those bands).

Danielle Goggin, of Dix Hills, and her three kids aged 4, 7 and 9

  • $130 on school supplies for all three kids
  • $250 on backpacks, lunchboxes and water bottles for all
  • $200 per child on clothing
  • Total: $980

Charlie Cook, director of kids marketing at Old Navy (where many local parents say they shop), confirms that clothing with a varsity feel is a trend for boys and girls, along with flannel and fleece.

Jaxson Nigro, 5, and mom Ashley Nigro, pick out a...

Jaxson Nigro, 5, and mom Ashley Nigro, pick out a backpack for Jaxson’s first day of kindergarten at Denny’s in Plainview on Aug 15.
Credit: Danielle Silverman

Goggin says while her younger daughter isn’t too picky, her 7-year-old is beginning to find her sense of style. “She’s transitioning from cutesy bags with pompons and unicorns,” she says, “to tie-dye and more grown up looks.” Her daughter is also noticing brand names, says Goggin, which led to the purchase of a JanSport backpack. “It seemed more sturdy than others,” she says, a good financial decision since last year she had to replace schoolbags before school was out. 

It’s more about comfort than style for Bartels’ kids. Her daughter favors leggings and T-shirts, her son cotton sweatpants (though at 5, he’s still into superheroes). As for saving money, Bartels pays attention to reward programs more than big sales, which she believes can force you to overspend. “If I have to spend $50 to get 10 percent off, I’m spending more than I intended.”

What are the biggest back-to-school trends?

Backpacks with contemporary designs, water bottles with fidget handles, pencil boxes with secret compartments and sneakers with charms are among the hottest back-to-school products your kids may be looking for. Here are 10 must-haves this September:

1. Puffer packs For the preschool and elementary school crowd, Ronkonkoma-based Top Trenz sells popular puffer packs in four colors which include smiley faces, packs with video game and sports designs, tie-dye and more. Mini packs start at $31; standard size is $51; toptrenz.com and local retailers.

2. Matching backpacks and lunch bags Debbie Imperatore, manager and buyer for Funky Monkey Toys & Books in Greenvale, says preschool and elementary school kids are buying backpacks with designs ranging from colored sprinkles to basketballs. “Some parents like to buy backpacks with matching lunchboxes, especially for younger kids. That way, kids can recognize what’s theirs,” she adds. Squishable, located in the Roosevelt Field mall in Uniondale, has new, top-selling sets of matching backpacks and lunchboxes in various patterns. Lunchboxes are $34 and backpacks are $49.99; squishable.com.

3. Confetti bags Colorful backpacks created by Packed Party are filled with confetti pressed between clear, vinyl pockets. Meredith Rousey, a Packed Party wholesale team member, explains, “Our goal is to make every day a party and fun. That’s why we have all the confetti. We really want to bring a smile to everybody’s face.” Backpacks begin at $56, matching lunchboxes begin at $30; find them in Denny’s, Lester’s in Greenvale, Funky Monkey, and local retailers.

4. Logo backpacks Kids moving on to middle or high school often prefer solid-colored backpacks with a logo (such as JanSport or Nike). A top-selling example is GOAT USA, a Roosevelt Field-based brand started by three Long Island friends. The company is reviving a version of its original pack. It comes in four colors, each with the GOAT USA logo on the flap. “They’re back and better than ever,” says Dylan McLaughlin, brand co-founder. Look for an interior, velvet padded insert laptop sleeve, headphone hole, top pocket with velvet padding, and much more. Backpacks start at $65.

5. Sprayground bags Sprayground backpacks span all ages. Every year, Sprayground designers collaborate with contemporary artists to create new styles. They also produce retro backpack designs based on TV shows. “They’re the bestselling backpacks in the store,” says Mo Santoli, manager of Zumiez in Uniondale. “Every year, they come out with different backpack designs, so they consider themselves never produced again. This year’s backpacks won’t be back next year.” Sprayground is sold at Zumiez and major retailers; backpack prices start at $80.

6. Totes Corey Glassberg, owner of Top Trenz, explains, “A lot of kids will bring tote bags to school instead of backpacks. Why? Because today they’re bringing a lot of electrical devices with them.” Laptops tend to fit nicely in totes and slings. “It’s not just cookie cutter to bring a backpack to school anymore,” Glassberg says. “Kids are diversifying their bag choices which is refreshing.” Top Trenz sling bags start at $21, totes start at $49.

7. Tech-y pencil boxes Hot Focus turned out a muti-function pencil box. Barbara Goldfarb, co-owner of MJ Beanz toy store in Plainview says, “The pencil case has two compartments. It’s got a pencil sharpener, a calculator, an eraser drawer and a pencil drawer that slides out.” Imperatore adds, “You press a secret button and it pops open. Press another button and a sharpener pops out. It’s very cool.” Pencil boxes start at $14.99; sold at MJ Beanz and Funky Monkey.

8. Bento boxes “Instead of just seeing basic lunchboxes, we’re seeing bento boxes,” Glassberg says. Whether they’re shaped like an avocado, a gaming device or a simple square, lift the cover and find a tray with several sections, and silverware. Top Trenz lunchboxes start at $29, bento boxes start at $25; Hot Focus bento boxes start at $19.99.

9. Fidget water bottles “Fidget water bottles have been one of my biggest back-to-school sellers,” Imperatore says. “The handle is made with a fidget-pop strap so kids can pop the circles. It makes it easy to hold and play with the fidget.” By Elemental, they start at $27.99 at Funky Monkey.

10. Sneaker charms With all these school products, kids will be covered from head to toe. So, what about shoes? Imperatore says new sneaker charms have been “selling really, really well.” The charms come with a rainbow-colored rubber band, so you can thread them through the laces on your high-tops or decorate your shoes. There are rainbow charms, gummy bears and smiley faces made with rhinestones. 4Kix charms are $16.99 at Funky Monkey.