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Poll: 36% of parents pressured to overspend on back-to-school shopping

And millennials have felt the most pressure of all


When you’re back-to-school shopping it can be tough not to spend too much. But many parents feel pressured to do just that. Keep reading to find out ways to reduce the stress and stay within your budget.

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The pandemic made it easy for parents to save money on back-to-school purchases for their kids, but now that kids are going back to school it’s time to shell out again.

And although buying new clothes and supplies for kids is important, it’s not worth going into debt over.

But many parents feel compelled to overspend on back-to-school shopping, and that could result in a blown budget, high credit card bills or both.

According to a recent survey 36% of parents feel pressured to overspend on shopping trips for school supplies, the same percentage who said they felt that kind of pressure about winter holiday shopping in a 2020 survey.

Almost half of millennials (49%) said they felt pressured to spend more on school shopping than they’re comfortable with, compared with 37% of Gen Xers and 27% of baby boomers. And those numbers are also similar to the ones from our winter holiday shopping poll: 46% of millennial parents, 41% of Gen Xers and 28% of boomers felt pressured to overspend.

So, how can all of these people reduce that temptation to spend more than they’re comfortable laying out?

Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst for, suggests teaching your kids about money by involving them in your purchasing decisions.

For example, he said, you might give them a budget and help them prioritize their choices.

So, if your elementary schooler splurges on folders with her favorite cartoon characters, she might need to spend less in another area. Or, if your college student craves a high-end computer, maybe there’s less money left over for dorm room decor.

“Making tradeoffs is a key component of being an informed consumer and successfully managing your personal finances,” Rossman stressed.

See related: Best credit cards – and shopping tips – for back-to-school days

Parents pressured to spend big on back-to-school: key findings

Here are some other results from our poll:

  • Social media is an influence: More than half of social media users (56%) said social media influenced all of their shopping decisions. Of those users, a third (33%) reported that posts by friends and family influenced them, while 31% said social media advertisements and 13% said posts from celebrities or influencers impacted their choices. Millennial social media users were the most likely to be influenced (72%), followed by Gen Zers (66%), Gen Xers (49%) and boomers (45%).
  • Three in 10 parents will be shopping: A fair number of U.S. adults (30%) said they’ll be out there during the second-biggest shopping season of the year (after winter holiday shopping). Gen Zers and millennials are more likely than the other groups to be out shopping for back-to-school supplies (50% and 48%, respectively), compared with Gen Xers and boomers (30% and 10%, respectively).

The survey of 2,464 U.S. adults was conducted online between July 7-9, 2021. See survey methodology.

After pandemic sacrifices, parents are willing to spend

Marc Mezzacca, founder of CouponFollow, said it’s not surprising that parents feel just as pressured to overspend on back-to-school shopping as they do during the winter holidays. With many children going back to actual classrooms after months of remote learning, parents are eager to make it a more exciting and less scary experience.

Mezzacca said many American families feel as though they’ve made tremendous sacrifices this past year. As a result, they want to reward their children with gifts to make this time a more positive experience. And since millennial parents may have very young children, they likely feel even more pressure to make this experience a memorable one, he added.

Back-to-school deals have expanded into more adult purchases, Mezzacca pointed out, with stores like Macy’s, Target, Wayfair and others giving significant back-to-school discounts on furniture, home goods and decor.

And after the past year spent saving, many parents are ready to splurge a little on their home as well. With more adults working from home even after the pandemic wanes, it’s no surprise they want to spend their money on making their homes and home offices beautiful.

Take control of your back-to-school shopping

Leslie H. Tayne, financial attorney and founder of Tayne Law Group, offers several tips for taking control of your back-to-school buying:

  • Be crystal clear on how much you can afford to spend in cash. And promise yourself you won’t go beyond that limit. This means budgeting and discussing the budget with the kids in an age-appropriate way.
  • Take stock of what you already have. For example, if you’ve got a dozen empty notebooks, you don’t need to buy more. Talk to other parents about splitting supplies or pooling gently used but good condition supplies that are no longer needed as kids age.
  • Create a shopping list – and don’t deviate from it. Monitor the amount you’re spending, as well as how much is left. Have your children join in and let them know the amount you allotted for particular items. This can be an excellent lesson on budgeting, as well as provide freedom for them to choose their supplies. Avoid the pressure to buy early – sometimes it’s better to wait and see what they really need.
  • Prioritize your purchases. Replacing pants that no longer fit is more important than getting a new backpack in the season’s hottest color. Develop an overview of your finances so you can determine the amount you’re willing to spend comfortably. Compare your list of supplies to the budgeted amount and get a sense of how much you can spend and which supplies may not fit into your budget.
  • Save money any way you can. Comparison shop, take advantage of sales, use coupons or online discount codes and sign up for cash back apps, like Rakuten, etc.
  • Buy used goods, such as textbooks and other items. Thrift shops and second-hand stores often feature gently worn clothing that could come with a designer label.
  • Space out the expense. Start back-to-school shopping months in advance to spread out the financial blow. While this strategy may not work for shoes and clothes, it can be effective for classroom supplies, like folders, pens or calculators.

Survey methodology commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,464 adults. The poll was conducted online between July 7-9, 2021.

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