Back-to-school spending priorities clash for parents, kids

Some consider a tattoo or waxing a school necessity

Back to school means back to spending, though parents and teens may be at odds about what to buy, according to a pair of credit card company's surveys.

In preparation of the new school year, 39 percent of consumers with school-age children plan to spend more this year than last year, according to a survey by American Express. Yet teens may not be so pleased with what their parents bring home from the store, according to a separate survey by Capital One.

Most parents plan to stick to the basics when back-to-school shopping. The items on most parents' shopping lists across the country include clothing (88 percent), shoes (86 percent) and school supplies (85 percent). But a sizeable percentage of teens are adamant that electronic gadgets should top the list. Twenty-five percent of teens say a cell or smart phone, computer or devices such as an iPods or e-readers, are one of the top three items they expect to buy before returning to class. Only 14 percent of parents shared that sentiment.

Parents and teens have different expectations for back-to-school shopping due in part to faulty communication, according to Capital One. Only 24 percent of parents set a budget with their teen and only 31 percent collaborated with their child when preparing their shopping list. More than a quarter of parents haven’t made any back-to-school shopping plans with their teens.

"This year's survey found several gaps in budget expectations and communication between parents and teens regarding back-to-school shopping plans," said Shelley Solheim, director of financial education at Capital One, in a press release. "Back-to-school shopping season is often overlooked as a financial education opportunity, but it's an optimal time for parents to teach teens about budgets and smart spending in a real-world situation."

That's not to say that parents aren't going to buy electronics or other such items their children desire -- they are just not priority expenditures. About 34 percent of parents expect to purchase high-tech devices for their student, with computers or laptops (18 percent), calculators (16 percent) and cell phones (11 percent) topping the list, according to American Express.

Parents are also willing to splurge on their students' images. Almost half of all families plan to pay for cosmetic services, such as haircuts and stylings, and approximately 37 percent anticipate buying beauty products for their child. Some parents (9 percent) are even willing to spring for their child’s back-to-school tattoo. Another 11 percent will shell out for waxing.

No matter what they are buying, though, almost 95 percent of consumers say they will be looking for ways to save. The average family of four is expected to shell out approximately $550 on their students' return to the classroom this season, according to American Express.

See related: Teaching kids good money habits by example, Credit lessons from the soap operas, 8 games that clarify credit for kids

Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.

Updated: 12-17-2018