A roundup of all the research reveals this shopping season will break records and maybe break the bank.

2 minute read

Back-to-school shopping is back, and it’s quite literally bigger than ever.

While we’re still in the midst of this intense shopping season, pollsters and economists are right now making predictions and crunching the numbers. They’ve already learned some fascinating – and expensive – lessons…

1. Many parents will go into debt for back-to-school shopping…

A third of parents will spend so much on back-to-school shopping, they won’t be able to afford it.

Here’s the scariest stat from a poll released this week by LendingTree, an online lending marketplace: “1 in 3 parents of school-age children expect to go into debt when shopping for back-to-school.”

Even scarier: The number keeps steadily going up. While it was 33 percent this year, it was 30 percent in 2020 and 26 percent in 2019.

2. …but parents are feeling more confident anyway 

Maybe parents are overspending on back-to-school shopping because they feel good about making up the money in a hot economy. Accounting firm Deloitte’s 2021 Back-to-School survey concluded parents feel “55 percent more confident about the economy’s prospects” than last year. To put that in perspective, only 17 percent of respondents said the same last year.

More than 3 in 4 (78 percent) told Deloitte’s pollsters their “household financial situation is in similar or better shape than last year.”

This could be contributing to an increase in spending. Like the previously mentioned survey, more (40 percent) Americans than last year (22 percent) expect to spend more money on back-to-school supplies for their kids.

3. Pent-up demand means record-high spending

Many people have never heard of the National Retail Federation, but the NRF is renowned for correctly estimating how much Americans will spend during various holiday seasons. Back-to-school shopping is no different. The NRF has been doing it since 2003, and its most recent back-to-school study surveyed 7,700 Americans – and it shows “record levels” of spending.

Parents will spend an average of $849 this month. That’s up $60 from the same time last year.

4. Clothing matters more than technology

In years past, the NRF has reported that technology items were the most common – and most expensive – purchases for back-to-school season. But a new poll this week from Debt.com says clothes will top the shopping list.

When asked what they’ll spend money on, more than 60 percent said clothing. That eclipsed technology (just over 20 percent) and traditional school supplies (less than 20 percent).

What it all means

Research can tell you numbers, but conclusions require experts. Here’s how one financial veteran interprets all this data.

“When you take all these surveys as a whole, you realize that the pandemic didn’t change how we spend on back-to-school shopping, but it did affect what items we’re buying,” says Howard Dvorkin, chairman of Debt.com, the nation’s largest debt-solutions provider.

Dvorkin notes that back-to-school spending increased during the pandemic, even as other research showed Americans cut back on other categories. He has a simple explanation for that: “As a parent myself, I’m willing to sacrifice for my children. So it’s no surprise parents cut down on spending for themselves but splurged on their kids.”

That also explains why clothing is the hot item this year.

“What parent wants to send their children to school in clothes that have been beat up around the house for two years?” Dvorkin says with a grin.

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About the Author

Joe Pye

Joe Pye

Joe Pye started writing about debt and personal finance five years ago while attending Florida Atlantic University, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the student-run newspaper, the University Press. Before graduating with a bachelor's degree in multimedia journalism, Pye placed as a finalist for the Mark of Excellence award by the Society of Professional Journalists Region 3 for feature writing and in-depth reporting. In 2021, Pye earned First Place in the Green Eyeshade awards for "Best Blog" for his side-project BrowardBeer.com. Since taking a full-time position as associate editor at Debt.com in 2018, Pye has become a certified debt management professional who's applied what he's learned to his personal life by paying down more than $22,000 worth of combined credit card, student loan, auto and tax debt in less than two years.

Published by Debt.com, LLC