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Budget Buster: Back-to-School Shopping Costs Rise for Parents in 2021

Written by:
Director of Education and Corporate Communications

The pandemic is still causing chaos and pushing average spending higher.

back to school shopping; back to school supplies in front of a chalkboard

This is the second year where the pandemic has severely disrupted schools. Back-to-school shopping this year is going to be difficult. Because cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 continue to increase, school districts may quickly change their plans, which means parents will face many challenges with their budgets.

This year, families like yours will spend hundreds of dollars on school supplies, Parents still do not know if their children will be in hybrid learning, in-person learning, or virtual learning, and this is causing a problem for our budgets. Do you need to budget as much for clothes or uniforms if the school will continue to be virtual or part-time? Or will you need to get the tech recommended by your local school district for another semester of remote learning? With that in mind, here are some tips for back-to-school shopping, so you don’t bust your budget.

Setting the right back-to-school shopping expectations

In 2021, retailers expect shoppers to spend $37 billion for K-12 students and $71 billion for students in college, which means, on average, parents can expect to spend close to $850 for children in K-12 and $1,200 for college students, according to the National Retail Federation. What’s more, reports that one out of three parents will increase their debt because of back-to-school shopping. This percentage has gone up over the past three years and was an issue even before COVID-19. Prices are also up this year because supply chains are being disrupted by COVID-19 and inflation pressures.


Average Back to School Costs in 2021

The pandemic hasn’t slowed down back to school costs. We look at some key statistics for average back to school shopping and find ways to save….

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Get started with Consolidated Credit’s Back-to-School Budget Calculator

Once you have your expectations all set, it’s time to start creating your back-to-school budget. Follow your child’s school supply list if their teacher provided one, and use the calculator below to create a personalized budget before you shop.

How to save on school supplies and clothes

Make sure you have a back-to-school budget

If you don’t already have a budget, start one and set money aside every month for what will be a yearly expense until your children graduate college. This way, you won’t have ‘sticker shock’ when back-to-school comes around. You’ll also want to factor in regular items such as clothing and food. Don’t forget school uniforms as well as clothing and supplies for extra-curricular activities.

Keep on top of required back-to-school technology

Regardless of the Delta variant, 52% of K-12 students will start the school year virtually, says CNBC, making tech a priority. But be sure to get the right tech that your school district requires. For example, the Washington D.C. public school system states that devices can be Windows 10, macOS, or IOS but recommends against Chromebooks and Android tablets. Additionally, make sure you buy clothing (or uniforms) that adhere to the school’s dress code.

Shop in the right place at the right time

39% of K-12 shoppers take advantage of online sales events, including Amazon’s Prime DayTarget Deal days, or Walmart’s Deals. You can also time your purchases to take advantage of tax-free back-to-school shopping deals. Tax-free back-to-school “deals” are when certain states allow consumers to purchase clothing and other school supplies, including computers and tablets, without paying state tax. That alone can save you a lot of money depending upon your state’s tax rate.  The tax-free weekend in your state also applies to qualifying purchases made online during that time.

Look at quality before price

The three most important factors that matter when purchasing back-to-school supplies include:

  1. product quality
  2. price
  3. products that work properly

This matters even more in an age where we are more likely to buy tablets instead of pencils. Before you buy, look up reviews on sites such as Consumer Reports, or you can look at reviews on Amazon or Google.

Ask for discounts and free supplies – including technology

Many school districts are giving tech supplies to students and families. In California, for example, almost 1 million students were given the tablets they needed for school. Additionally, some municipalities have worked with local phone and internet providers to provide low-cost internet connections. AT&T, Verizon, and many other national cable and telephone companies offer highly discounted internet rates, some as low as $10.00 per month. They also do this for seniors. You’ll have to meet income eligibility guidelines. But clearly, you should take advantage of this.

If you’re having trouble balancing your budget because of credit card debt, we can help. Talk to a certified credit counselor today for a free debt and budget evaluation.