Retail

Parents are spending a lot more on back-to-school shopping, even if it means going into debt


For parents already stretching budgets to pay for groceries and gasoline, stocking up on school supplies will be a little harder this year.

“Back-to-school shopping is stressful even in the best economic times,” said Matt Schulz, the chief credit analyst at LendingTree.

“With inflation running rampant and supply chain issues lingering, these are definitely not the best of times,” Schulz said. “Lots of families are going to have to make some real sacrifices and have some uncomfortable conversations this back-to-school shopping season.”

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Families are already struggling this season amid rising prices, several recent studies show.

In 2022, total back-to-school spending is expected to match last year’s record high of $37 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 on school supplies, $168 more than in 2019, the NRF found.

There is also less wiggle room when it comes to the required items, or at least it often feels that way. “Families consider back-to-school and college items as an essential category,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO.

Customers shop at a Walmart in Houston on Aug. 4, 2021.

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

A separate report from Deloitte found that 37% of parents will spend even more this year — up to $661 per child

However, 75% of parents are stressed about paying the tab, up 12% from last year, according to LendingTree.

More than one-third, or 37%, of parents with school-age children said they are unable to afford back-to-school shopping due to inflation, and nearly half said they will take on debt shopping for their kids, another study by Credit Karma found.

How to save on back-to-school supplies

“Americans are very resourceful,” said Beverly Harzog, a consumer finance analyst at U.S. News & World Report.

In addition to shopping around, taking advantage of upcoming sales tax holidays and using credit card rewards or cash-back bonuses, can lower costs, she said.

If you qualify, Harzog also recommends applying for a new card with a sign-up bonus or offering a 0% intro APR for 12 to 21 months and then paying it off over the course of the year without interest charges.

“That’s a better win if you do a little bit of strategizing,” she said.

Otherwise, swap gently used supplies with neighbors, Harzog, who often gave and received winter coats this way, suggested.

As a general rule, stick to only buying what you need right now, advised Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst at DealNews.com.

Students may have to start the school year with notebooks, binders, paper, pens and pencils, but other purchases, such as a new backpack or lunchbox, can be put off until they go on sale.

If you don’t need a new laptop or headphones right away, Ramhold recommends waiting until Labor Day or even Black Friday when the discounts on electronics will be greater.

A price-tracking browser extension like CamelCamelCamel or Keepa can help to keep an eye on price changes and alert you when the price drops.

Then use a cash-back site like CouponCabin.com to earn money back on online purchases, including back-to-school supplies from Target, Walmart and Macy’s.

“As long as it’s a good deal, go for it,” Ramhold said.

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