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Inflation leads families to tighten budgets for back-to-school shopping

Consumer inflation in the U.S. may have dipped to 8.5% in July, but prices remain steep after inflation reached a 41-year high in June.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Adriana Roman is a single mother in Chesapeake who says budgeting always stays at the top of her mind.

"I just try to get the best deals I can get for them, especially having two boys," she said. 

For back-to-school shopping, Roman told 13News Now she considers online deals and in-store discounts.

"Just whoever is having a sale going on for that week. I kind of do it gradually throughout the summer," Roman said. 

She also took advantage of Virginia's tax-free holiday weekend in early August.

Roman, among many parents, had to work around inflation rates reaching record levels this summer.

"I just had to tighten up on my budget a little harder," she said. 

"Everybody is seeing inflation taking a bite out of their paychecks and income," said Dr. Bob McNab, a professor of Economics and chair of the Department of Economics at Old Dominion University.

McNab said he expects parents to pay more for back-to-school shopping this year when compared to last year and pre-pandemic levels. 

 "It’s like they’re getting hammered by it from all sides. They’ve got to pay more for gas, they’ve got to pay more for groceries, they’ve got to pay more for school lunch ... And schools are paying more for everything also," he said.

McNab mentioned that the end of pandemic-era universal free school lunches at public schools could put a tougher strain on some families' wallets. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is resuming income-based eligibility for free or reduced lunches.

When it comes to food prices, McNab told 13News Now the average rate of inflation sat at roughly 4.1% in the second half of 2021. In the first half of this year, it rose at 8.9%.

He also pointed out that the average yearly inflation rate for clothing in the U.S. hovered at zero from 2017 to 2019. However, it jumped up to 5.7% for the first half of 2022.

"So, when you go out for your school supplies, they're going to cost more. The clothing is going to cost more. Why? Not only are the materials more expensive, it just takes more money to get them from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the retailer, to you," he said. 

"It's a very hard balancing act now that people expect inflation to continue and the only way, really, to break it is by raising the cost of money – that is, raising interest rates."

It's not entirely clear when Americans will feel financial and economic pressures lift. Roman hopes everyone can keep stretching their money as Hampton Roads ushers in a new school year.

"Find the plan that works best for you and just stick to it," Roman said.

She also shared that her family is saving gas money by traveling less to neighboring cities, like Virginia Beach.

For some more money-saving tips on supplies, consumer experts recommend comparing prices store-to-store and shopping the store brand. They also suggest keeping items, such as lunchboxes and pencils, which can carry over into the new academic year.

And while the cost of goods is rising, research from Deloitte shows parents will shell out more money this year, for things like sports, to boost their children’s mental health.

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