Back-to-School Shopping May Cost Up to 18% More in 2022

Parent and child shop for school supplies.

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If you have kids in grades K-12 or starting college, be prepared to pay more this back-to-school season, thanks to inflation that is currently at levels not seen since 1981.

The Balance analyzed the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) data and found that lunch meat, sports equipment, dorm furniture, and other back-to-school essentials have gotten a lot pricier compared to last year.

Key Takeaways

  • Prices of back-to-school staples have risen between 8% and 18% over last year, according to an analysis of the latest inflation data by The Balance.
  • Lunch meat had the largest price hike on the list, costing 18% more compared to 2021. 
  • Sports equipment and dorm furniture cost between 8% and 13% more than last year.
  • Smartphones were the only item on the list to significantly decrease in price since 2021.

Lunch Meats and Extracurricular Expenses See Big Price Hikes

Of the K-12 back-to-school items analyzed by The Balance, lunch meat had the biggest price hike compared to last year, as inflation rose to its highest rate in nearly 41 years. Lunch meat is 18% pricier than in 2021, costing an average of $5.88 per pound. So if you’re packing your kids’ lunches with these meats, expect to pay more or find other ways such as coupons to save money on groceries.

If your child is enrolled in any extracurricular activities, things have gotten more expensive on that front, too. Sports equipment—for both indoor and outdoor sports including basketball, baseball, football, and tennis—is 8% pricier this year compared to last year. Over the past year, U.S. families have spent an average of $571 at sporting-goods stores, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Retail Trade data adjusted for inflation.

If your child plays an instrument (or is planning to), musical instruments and accessories are also nearly 6% more expensive compared to 2021.

A New Look Will Cost You More

A new school year can mean new outfits, but clothes have gotten more expensive, too. Boys’ clothing costs have increased 6.5% since last year, with U.S. families spending an average of $94 on boys’ apparel during that time, according to data from the BLS’ 2020 Consumer Expenditure Survey, adjusted for inflation. While the average spend on girls’ clothing was similar to that of boys' apparel, clothing for girls saw a smaller jump in price, increasing 1.7% over last year.

For those wanting a fresh hairstyle for the school year, haircuts are 6% pricier than last year, costing an average of nearly $50, according to 2017 data for salons from Square, a company that offers services such as transaction processing and staffing to businesses, adjusted for inflation.

But there is some good news. If a new phone is on your shopping list for the school year, you’re in luck because smartphones are 20% less expensive than in 2021, with the average cost of a smartphone currently at $291, based on numbers from the International Data Corporation’s Worldwide Smartphone Forecast, when adjusted for inflation. Prices for cellphone plans, however, dropped a little under 1%. The average cost of adding an extra line to a phone plan is about $35, according to data from Consumer Reports, when adjusted for inflation.


Don’t wait until right before school starts to do your shopping. Get a head start in July and do your school shopping now to find bargains and seasonal sales on school supplies and clothing.

Cost of Dorm Furniture Makes Going Back to Campus Pricier

If you have a child in college or prepping for their first year (or maybe you’re a college student yourself), inflation has made back-to-campus essentials such as dorm furniture and bedding more expensive than last year.

The cost of furniture and bedding had the second-largest price jump of the items analyzed by The Balance, rising 13% compared to 2021. The average amount spent on furniture in 2021 was $652, according to data from the BLS’ 2020 Consumer Expenditure Survey, adjusted for inflation.             

In some good news for college students, the cost of tuition, housing, and books did not increase as much as many of the other items on the list, and have only risen 5% or less from last year. However, these all factor into your bottom line when you’re looking into the costs of college, so plan ahead and budget accordingly to accommodate the cost of food, housing, furniture, and textbooks.

While the price of college textbooks didn’t increase as dramatically, they still cost more than $1,300 on average for the school year, so you might want to look into buying used textbooks or selling ones you no longer need.

Another way to lower your living expenses in college is to find gently used (and sometimes new or hardly used) furniture on Facebook Marketplace or OfferUp that will help you furnish your dorm without breaking the bank. While it can be tempting to go all out on decorating your dorm, the costs can add up. Since you will likely need to get rid of it at the end of the school year, you might be able to save money by keeping the furniture and bedding shopping simple.


Price percent changes for all items from June 2022 BLS Consumer Price Index data, the most recent data as of writing. All prices are adjusted to June 2022 dollars with corresponding BLS CPI series.

Costs for furniture and apparel for both boys and girls is from the 2020 Consumer Expenditures Survey. Estimates for cost of sports equipment is based on Retail Trade data from the U.S. Census Bureau depicting average 2021 consumption at sporting-goods stores per U.S. household.

Salon pricing data for average cost of men's and women's haircuts from Square is the basis for cost estimates for haircuts.

College textbook, tuition, and housing costs are sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics. These include average expenses for four-year programs at public state schools. Data from U.S. Department of Education College Affordability and Transparency List powers numbers on technical- and business-school tuition and fees. This figure includes average program costs for public schools over two years or less.

Pricing data for cellphones and cellphone plans were sourced from International Data Corporation and Consumer Reports respectively. Cellphone plan cost is the average monthly cost of an additional line from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, and cellphone cost is average overall selling price.

Lunch-meat cost is based on data from Information Resources, Inc, and is reported as average per pound.

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Research and analysis by
Adrian Nesta
Adrian Nesta, Research Analyst on the Data Journalism team at Dotdash

Adrian Nesta is a Senior Data Reporter on the Data Journalism team at Dotdash, the digital publisher that owns and operates The Balance. His work includes data collection, cleaning, analysis, and visualization for stories in the data journalism portfolio across every vertical at Dotdash.

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  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Prices Up 9.1 Percent Over the Year Ended June 2022, Largest Increase in 40 Years.”

  2. U.S. Census Bureau. “Estimates of Monthly Retail and Food Services Sales by Kind of Business: 2022,” download Excel sheet.

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “BLS Data Viewer - Music Instruments and Accessories in U.S. City Average, All Urban Consumers, Not Seasonally Adjusted.”

  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Expenditure Surveys,” download multiyear mean data 2013-2020.

  5. Square. “Here’s What Salon Pricing Looks Like Across the Country.”

  6. International Data Corporation. “Smartphone Shipments To Grow 5.5% in 2021 Driven by Strong 5G Push and Pent-up Demand, According to IDC.”

  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “BLS Data Viewer - Wireless Telephone Services in U.S. City Average, All Urban Consumers, Not Seasonally Adjusted.”

  8. Consumer Reports.”Best Low-Cost Cell Phone Plans.”

  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “BLS Data Viewer - Furniture and Bedding in U.S. City Average, All Urban Consumers, Not Seasonally Adjusted.”

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