School Supply Lists Have Gotten Ridiculously Long and Expensive. Here’s Why.

By Ruth Graham for Slate.com

If you’re not a parent, you may remember shopping for school supplies as an enjoyably quaint activity: a quick trip to the store to pick out a new Trapper Keeper, and some shiny folders, along with a few boxes of crayons, pencils, and a bright pink eraser.

When I asked parents on Facebook to share their children’s lists, my inbox started filling up immediately with exasperated responses. One mother who has two kids in public school outside Dallas said she spent $180 fulfilling their “ridiculous” lists this year. Her third-grader’s extensive list includes six plastic pocket folders with brads (specifically: red, blue, yellow, orange, green, and purple), Fiskars-brand scissors (sharp point), a four-pack of Expo markers, and 48 No. 2 pencils. As the lists have become cumbersome to fulfill, PTAs and online services have stepped in to bundle supplies for a fee. (Many parents who contributed to this story asked that their names not be used to avoid upsetting their children’s teachers and school administrators.)

Today, many parents describe it differently. School-supply lists are now often shockingly long, requesting dozens of specific and sometimes expensive items. They include particular brands: Prang watercolors, Ticonderoga pencils, Elmer’s glue sticks. “Pens” are no longer good enough; only “Black Papermate Flair Porous-Point Medium-Point Pens” will do. And the definition of “school supplies” has expanded to include items like tissues, sanitizing wipes, locker shelves, and plastic baggies. The requests are the stuff of parody in parenting magazines and laments on private Facebook pages. Comedian Dana Blizzard’s response to the belly-aching was passed around widely on Facebook this week. “I’ve been noticing lately, when people are doing their back to school shopping, everybody’s complaining,” she tells the camera, tossing microwaves and jugs of glue into her cart as she wheels through Target. “My thing is: Listen. It’s the end of August. I will give you anything to take my kids.”

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