Back-to-school budget woes: Parents are struggling as bills for supplies skyrocket

NEW YORK — Nearly six in 10 parents (58%) think school supplies have become more expensive — and schools asking kids to bring more of their own items might be to blame. A survey of 2,000 millennial parents of school-age kids found that school supply lists are only exacerbating the issue. More than half of parents (55%) think their kids today need more items for school than they did in their youth.

When it comes to paying for school supplies, a third of parents (33%) are putting this year’s back-to-school spending entirely on their credit card.

To help save money for the back-to-school season, 65 percent of parents will rely on savings apps, while over half will make use of government discounts (54%) and scholarships or grants (53%).

The importance of being frugal is timeless, as seven in 10 respondents (71%) said their parents emphasized being economical when purchasing school supplies for them.  

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Cricket Wireless, the survey also found that although kids still need the basics, including pencils and pens (69%), paper notebooks (68%), and erasers (62%), tech (57%) is front and center where spending is concerned.

Infographic showing school supply budget for tech in families

Eight in 10 parents (83%) are setting aside a budget for the tech their kids will need, more so than for required books (53%), backpacks or lunch boxes (38%), and clothing or shoes (34%).

In fact, 70 percent of these respondents said most or all of their back-to-school budget is reserved for tech items.

What tech do kids need for school these days? A smartphone (72%), laptop (71%), and desktop computer (66%) topped the list, while items such as printers (30%) and electronic calculators (30%) were less in demand.

“With the rising costs of back-to-school supplies, parents may face unexpected expenses that can be especially tough on their wallets,” says Cricket Wireless Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Tony Mokry, in a statement. “Forty percent of the people surveyed said they buy school supplies in advance and update them as necessary throughout the year, suggesting parents may face unexpected expenses throughout the school year.”

The survey also asked kids ages six to 18 about the money lessons their parents have taught them, discovering 46 percent sometimes discuss being frugal with their parents. 

Additionally, many kids have learned about the difference between wants and needs (65%), saving money for something special (57%), and buying things that someone else used before (56%).

“When reviewing your tech budget, combining spends for you and your child’s phones is a great opportunity to stretch your dollars,” adds Mokry. “One way to save is looking for phone plans that allow you to sign up for multiple lines for a discounted monthly cost.”

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 millennial parents (27–42) of school-age kids (5–18) was commissioned by Cricket Wireless between June 23 and June 29, 2023. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

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About the Author

Sophia Naughton

Meet StudyFinds’ Associate Editor, Sophia Naughton. Sophia graduated Magna Cum Laude from Towson University with a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication directly focused in journalism and advertising. She is also a freelance writer for Baltimore Magazine. Outside of writing, her best buddy is her spotted Pit Bull, Terrance.

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