With back-to-school shopping season in full gear, some parents are concerned about the costs of school supplies and other necessities, while one local charity has seen almost double the demand this year for its annual backpack and school supplies giveaway.
Last year, the Owen Hart Foundation distributed around 850 backpacks full of supplies like pencil crayons, paper, scissors and more to students in need. Martha Hart, founder of The Owen Hart Foundation, said those often include children from families living with incomes below the poverty line and newcomers.
This year, Hart saw the demand jump 76 per cent.
"[Originally], we were going to give away 1,000 backpacks," Hart said. "But the need was so great we ended up giving away just about 1,500 backpacks."
The Owen Hart Foundation organizes a backpack giveaway every summer for students in need. (Owen Hart Foundation)
Wanting to meet the increased demand and more for future giveaways, Hart said donations from sponsors are key. But the effects of inflation were also evident on the funding side.
"Donations have slowed down just because everyone's really struggling with our weak economy and so it is difficult to get sponsors to commit," she said.
Though Hart said she's happy to have the support of current partners like the Calgary Police Youth Foundation, Trapped Escape Room and other sponsors, she hopes more companies will be able to help fund the drive so they can deliver even more backpacks to students in the future.
"We could do thousands of backpacks because there's just such a need," Hart said. "We just really want to be able to help these families and help the kids so that they can feel good about starting their school year off on the right foot."
The cost of back-to-school for parents
For many parents, the cost of school supplies are another added expense on top of increasing gas, rent and grocery prices that are already difficult to afford.
Cutting costs where possible, a recent survey from the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) found that Canadians are planning to spend more prudently this year, buying more lower-priced items than in previous years.
Compared to 2022, the number of people planning to spend less than $50 has gone up by 3.4 per cent, which the RCC said in their findings is indicative of smaller budgets.
Jen Chiasson, a mother of six who homeschools her children in Strathmore, said inflation has impacted her buying power for items like homeschool supplies.
"Even if I'm not seeing it directly on the curriculum, when my gas, when my groceries and my insurance is higher, then I just have less resources to put into buying things like curriculum," she said.
"But additionally on top of that I do see that school supplies have gone way up just recently. I had to buy a graphing calculator for my son and it was well over $150 — which blew my mind."
Jen Chiasson homeschools her six children in Strathmore. She says rising costs are a concern when it comes to back-to-school shopping. (Jen Chiasson)
For Chiasson, rising costs means having to sacrifice certain expenses and prioritizing others. This year, she had to make the difficult decision to cut back on her son's extracurricular activities.
"In the last year, my older son played competitive indoor soccer which we consider to be a vital part of his education," she said.
"And this year, when we looked at the cost not only of the program itself, but then the fuel to get him to all of the games we just had to make the decision that it wasn't for us. Which is hard, because nobody wants to say no to their kids. Nobody's kids want to hear no. And you want to give your kids everything."
Chetan Dave, an economics professor at the University of Alberta, said the back-to-school season has become an "ingrained cultural, almost psychological and sociological event in everybody's lives."
"It does take on a little bit of that sort of seasonality flavour and you're going to see parents who want to do their best … think a little bit more carefully this year [about their spending], given inflation."
According to the RCC, one in four Canadians will participate in back-to-school shopping this year. The survey also found clothing was the second largest back-to-school shopping category, only behind stationary.
Though parents may feel pressure from their children to buy all new clothes, Dave suggested substituting items for more cost-friendly alternatives such as using hand-me-downs, shopping for generic labels over brand names and thrifting at stores like Goodwill and Plato's Closet.
"My own daughter — she's shopping at Goodwill as she's been slowly preparing for going back to school for Grade 11," Dave said.