Financial Challenges in Back-To-School Season: Expert Insights and Implications

Parents can expect to spend an average of $377 per child for back-to-school supplies, a significant 21 percent increase compared to the previous year.

These concerning trends emerged from the 2023 Consumer Pulse Back to School Survey. The timing couldn't be worse, as more than 40 percent of parents preparing for the upcoming academic year report worsening financial circumstances.

The Need for a Tighter Budget

Raymond Quisumbing, a registered financial planner affiliated with, emphasizes the importance of tighter budgets for families due to rising costs such as electricity and food. With a significant portion of family income allocated to basic necessities, major expenses like education may be impacted.

Quisumbing attributes the rise in back-to-school spending to factors such as the resumption of in-person learning. As many schools transition from remote models to in-person classes, families find themselves needing to invest in new clothes, supplies, technology, and even home rentals.

Learning loss and inflation significantly impact back-to-school shopping plans, as per CivicScience's latest report. Out of adults with school-aged children, 54 percent have a student in their household struggling in at least one subject. 25 percent of families with struggling children plan to purchase laptops in the coming six months. Additionally, households dealing with learning loss display a heightened interest in technology like tablets to aid student learning.

Consequently, Quisumbing notes, families may accrue greater debt through credit cards and consumer loans, exacerbating their financial strain. Overspending on back-to-school shopping can also deplete funds allocated for savings, bills, or emergencies.

3 Ways Parents Can Limit Overspending

Quisumbing offers the following ways parents can limit overspending:

  • Create a budget specifically for school expenses and diligently adhere to it. Following a list and creating a detailed shopping list will help you resist purchasing unnecessary items.
  • Consider exploring thrift stores or online marketplaces that offer second-hand options for backpacks or school supplies. This can provide significant savings compared to buying brand-new items.
  • Get the kids in on budgeting, and show them how to maximize their resources while cutting costs. This will help them develop crucial money management skills at a young age and relieve the stress that unreasonable demands from their children place on parents.

Take Advantage of School Programs

Caroline Farkas, a STEM education specialist with over a decade of teaching experience, reveals that many schools have programs or initiatives to assist families facing financial difficulties.

They suggest parents contact schools to see what specific supports they have in place. They often know of local programs or churches looking to support local community members if they can't provide specific items. According to Farkas, schools often have programs that may include:

Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Programs

Schools often offer meal assistance programs based on income eligibility. Families experiencing financial difficulties can apply for these programs to ensure their children receive nutritious meals at school. Some states are now offering free meals to all students!

Device Programs

Many schools offer free hardware and software to students with Chromebooks, iPads, or laptops. They will even send home a hotspot for students to access WiFi.

School Supply Drives

Some schools organize supply drives where community members, businesses, or organizations donate school supplies for families in need. Contact your child's school or local community centers to inquire about such initiatives.

Finding Affordable or Discounted School Supplies

Regarding saving money and maximizing parents' budgets, Farkas recommends the following:

Dollar Stores and Discount Retailers

Visit dollar stores or discount retailers that offer a wide range of school supplies at lower prices. You can often find notebooks, pens, pencils, folders, and other essentials at a fraction of the cost compared to larger retail stores.

Online Marketplaces and Comparison Websites

Explore online marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart, or Target, where you can find competitive prices and discounts on school supplies. Additionally, use comparison websites to compare prices across multiple retailers to ensure you're getting the best deal. Back-to-school deals are often cheaper than dollar stores during August!

Find Free Resources

Many companies offer free resources for students and parents. Doodles and Digits provide free math videos and activities for students to help them and their parents be successful in math. There are so many free websites, apps, and resources now that parents can take advantage of.

Local Community Resources

Check with local nonprofit organizations, community centers, or religious institutions that may host school supply giveaways or assist needy families. They often collaborate with businesses or individuals who generously donate supplies.

Buy In Bulk

Items you know your children will go through in large quantities are suitable candidates for bulk-buying warehouses like Costco or Sam's Club. Pencils, Ziploc bags, and papers can be bulk-bought.

Prioritize Essential Supplies

Farkas suggests that families double-check their school's supplies list before hitting the stores. “If you are not sure what items are truly necessary – ask the teacher,” Farkas says. “They can let you know what items you can cut if you really have a tight budget.”

They recommend the following items as must-haves for each school year and trends to look out for when shopping, highlighting their importance.

Writing Tools

Students will rely heavily on pens, pencils, erasers, and highlighters for taking notes, doing homework, and acing exams. Teachers often ask for pre-sharpened pencils because they only have one pencil sharpener. To save some money, buy unsharpened pencils and sharpen them at home.

Notebooks and Paper

Students need notebooks or loose-leaf paper to keep track of their lessons, take notes, and complete homework assignments.

Binders and Folders

These help students organize their class materials, handouts, and worksheets by subject, making allocating and reviewing information easier. Parents must check to see what is recommended for their child's age.

Backpack or Bag

Students can't get through the day without a sturdy backpack or bag to transport their educational materials in.

Technology Needs

Find out if a laptop, tablet, or certain software programs are needed for your child's education by contacting the school directly. If you're familiar with these specifications, you can be assured that your kid will have all he or she needs to thrive in school. In some cases, pupils will be provided with their own devices and free WiFi.

Quality Over Quantity

While it's important to have the essential supplies, STEM education specialists advise focusing on quality rather than buying excessive quantities of items. Investing in durable, long-lasting supplies can save money in the long run.

Families may make the most of their resources and guarantee a prosperous and financially balanced back-to-school season with careful planning, seeking help, and making smart choices.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Amaka Chukwuma is a freelance content writer with a BA in linguistics. As a result of her insatiable curiosity, she writes in various B2C and B2B niches. Her favorite subject matter, however, is in the financial, health, and technological niches. She has contributed to publications like Buttonwood Tree and FinanceBuzz in the past and currently writes for Wealth of Geeks.