Free Debt Analysis

Contact us at 1-888-503-5563

See how typical budgets for grade school and college students compare - and how you can save.

4 minute read

Debt.com strives to provide our users with helpful information while remaining unbiased and truthful. We hold our sponsors and partners to the highest industry standards. Once vetted, those sponsors may compensate us for clicks and transactions that occur from a link within this page.

After the holiday season, back-to-school shopping is the second largest spending event of the year.

In total, Americans will spend an estimated $82.8 billion to get grade school and college students ready to learn, according to the National Retail Federation [1]. That’s collective, though. When you break that down by individual families with kids in elementary through high school, the average American’s back-to-school budget is $684.79.

But where is all of that money going to? The survey says back-to-school shoppers plan to spend the biggest chunk ($263.90) on clothing. But on top of that, they’ll use it on the following…

  • $187.10 on electronics such as computers, calculators, or phones
  • $138.66 will go to shoes
  • $122.13 will be spent on supplies like notebooks, pencils, backpacks, and lunchboxes

“The biggest change we are seeing in back-to-school spending this year is coming from electronics,” NRF VP Mark Mathews says. “Items like laptops, tablets, and smartphones are now an everyday part of household life and aren’t necessarily a purchase parents save for the start of the school year.”

Back-To-School Shopping Advice For Parents: Ignore Your Kids

Only one week apart, two polls were conducted about back-to-school shopping — and both concluded everyone hates it. We’re talking both parents and their children.

“A majority of American parents (75 percent) and teens (73 percent) say back-to-school shopping causes tension,” says eBates [2].

Most teens complain their parents “wait until the last minute to do the shopping,” while most parents complain their teens “want the name brand when they can only afford the budget item.”

That same exact sentiment was corroborated in the Coinstar Back-to-School Survey released seven dates later [3]. It declares that 70 percent of parents call back-to-school shopping “stressful” because of the peer pressure their children face to buy the latest fashions.

Save big by behaving big

As parents, we often give our children an allowance, which is a tangible way of imparting a crucial lesson: Money doesn’t grow on trees. You only get so much, so spend it wisely.

Back-to-school shopping is so stressful because children want the coolest clothes and gadgets to impress their friends, and they want you to spend your money to make them look cool.

Instead, try this: Give your children a modified allowance for back-to-school shopping.

You may be thinking: “If I give my kid $500, he’ll buy one gadget or one outfit, and no new underwear or notebooks.” That’s why you should modify their allowance.

Basically, you jot down a list of categories your child must cover. As long as they purchase all those items, you’re fine with their selections. However, they must get all those items.

It’s doubtful there will still be stress and tears. Every shopping season is stressful, but nothing beats back-to-school for the generation gap when parents don’t even pretend to understand the importance of the latest status symbols of a new generation.

Our advice: Don’t give in, and you’ll teach your children valuable lessons they won’t appreciate until they’ve graduated.

How to save money on back-to-school shopping

Most kids around the country head back to school sometime between mid-August and early September, but back-to-school shopping starts earlier every year.

Two-thirds of parents are shopping throughout the summer for school-related products, and those that shop earlier end up spending more money, says a study from consulting firm Deloitte [4].

Most parents — 60 percent — will start shopping before August, with 11 percent shopping before July! Parents who shop earlier than July spend $100 more than those parents who shop in July. People in many states start shopping earlier to take advantage of sales tax holidays.

Early shoppers and undecided shoppers — those who aren’t sure if they’ll go online or in-store — are the biggest targets of retailers. The earlier you shop, the more you are likely to spend. And the more unsure you are about where you will shop and what you will buy, the more you will blow your budget.

Start the school year off right for your kids and YOU! Start using a budgeting tool that automatically updates Google Sheets and Excel with your bank, credit cards and other transactions

Get Started for FREE!

Back-to-school shopping tips

  • Compare prices, but don’t go crazy. Spend a small amount of time looking up prices and deals online and even in mailers and newspaper inserts. It’s fine to try to find the best deal, but don’t go overboard in research to save just a few cents or dollars. Your time is worth something, too.
  • Shop wherever you’ll find what you need when you need it. Sometimes, it makes sense to order online if it’s cheaper. But if you need something in the next day, you can check out Walmart and Target, or even a local drugstore or grocery store for quickie school supply items.
  • Look in-store for sales. With so many people shopping online, brick-and-mortar stores are struggling. Is there something your kid really loves? Unicorns, dinosaurs, Vampirina? Look for in-store deals on what they have in stock AFTER the rush for back-to-school and other holidays have passed, and pick it up then.
  • Be wary of some deals. Pricing can be different depending on sizing, and the deal may not apply to the item in the size you need. Looking for shoes we were tricked by this one (and wound up spending $20 more), so be cautious and double check on pricing before you get to the register.
  • DIY/improvise if you can. If you can’t find what your kid really wants or needs, try improvising or doing it yourself. When it comes to clothes this can be tough, but there are ways to add pizazz to your kid’s clothes, especially if they like glitter. For kids who love animals, get cost-effective plain shirts and iron-on or sew-on patches to give them personalization. School supplies like pens and pencils can be easily decorated with glitter and stickers for a fun way to write.
Did we provide the information you needed? If not let us know and we’ll improve this page.
Let us know if you liked the post. That’s the only way we can improve.
Yes
No

About the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn

Zinn is a freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Published by Debt.com, LLC Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: The Average American's Back-to-School Budget, and How to Trim Yours - AMP.