How Much Are We Spending on School Supplies?

Study Shows School Spending Trends

How Much Are We Spending on School Supplies?
August 25, 2015

Summer is winding down, and new school years are starting all over America. That also means that it is hand-to-hand combat time in the school supplies aisle of your local big box store. Everybody is searching for bargains because the costs of school supplies are still on the rise.

That is one of the conclusions from the latest American Express Spending and Saving Tracker. According to a random sampling of 2,127 parents, we will be spending an average of $1,239 on school supplies and expenses in 2015 as compared with $1,151 in 2014, an increase of 7.6%.

Technology in the classroom is on the rise, as 82% of respondents say their children use technology in learning. Use of tablets increased from 51% to 57% total, smartphone use is up from 24% to 29%, and smartboard use increased from 16% to 17%. The increase in smartphone use is not coming from younger users, as the average acceptable age for parents to buy their children cell phones has held steady at 12 for the last three years.

The only specific technology device to drop in use is eReaders, which are being squeezed out of existence by increasingly capable smartphones and tablets. Their use is down to 12% from 15% last year.

Although this is a marked increase in spending and percentages, it should be noted that technology is not completely replacing textbooks. A larger percentage of respondents expect to purchase textbooks this year (57% compared to 51% in 2014). However, those expecting to buy textbooks expect to spend $249 on them, which is down from $270 in 2014.

Spending on extracurricular activities is on the rise for 2015. We expect to spend 20% more than we did in 2014 on after-school programs, $455 per child compared to last year's $380.

It is no surprise that sports make up the greatest component of extracurricular spending. 60% of respondents will spend an average of $195 on after-school sporting activities. Compare that to the 16% of respondents who expect to spend an average of $166 on after-school academic enrichment courses such as ACT and SAT prep. Yet the poll also shows that 86% of respondents would rather their child get straight A grades than be a star athlete, compared to the 14% that prefer the opposite.

Parents appear to be paying mostly lip service to academics, but are ponying up the bucks for sports. At least the academic course participation is expected to rise by 1% while the sports participation will decline by 3%. Perhaps we are heading in the right direction.

Spending on other extracurricular activities are as follows: 27% of respondents will pay an average of $152 for music-related activities (band or choir), and the same percentage of respondents expect to pay $110 on average for hobby-based activities. 22% plan to spend an average of $138 for volunteering efforts, and 18% will pay an average of $148 for after-school art programs.

The good news is that most kids are busy with some activity. 87% of respondents expect their child to participate in at least one extracurricular activity.

Where do the extra expenses cut into the parental budget? The most popular sacrifice is dining out. Over half (53%) of parents will cut back on dining out to balance out the increases in back-to-school expenses. Other popular cutbacks include entertainment options (38%), wardrobe spending (38%), travel/vacations (32%), and beauty/spa treatments (24%).

It is the same old story — we spend more on our kids and less on ourselves. But that is as it should be. Our kids are our most precious investments. If we have to eat out a bit less often and wrestle spiral notebooks away from other desperate parents at the store, so be it.


Photo ©iStock.com/anilakkus

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Victor | 08.25.15 @ 13:58
This is a great article especially now that class is about to start
Christina | 08.25.15 @ 14:02
The older the kids get, the more expensive the supplies!
Elaine | 08.25.15 @ 14:06
School has already started here and shelves are whipped out. So I imagine there was a lot of spending.
Britt | 08.25.15 @ 14:13
When you think about it, school supplies are very pricey, especially when you have multiple students that you are shopping for. Great article.
Zanna | 08.25.15 @ 14:13
I try to shop frequently over late spring and summer, and add a few items to the cart for school each time. It helps cut down on the last minute chunk out of the budget. But, there are still things like parking passes, specialized classroom needs (art supplies, scientific calculator) that have to wait until we have the specific lists from the teachers. It certainly makes it hard to meet the budget this month!
Jackie | 08.25.15 @ 14:19
Although my children are past school age I purchase school items for my grandchildren. I shop the dollar stores and can come away with a bag full of pens, paper, glue etc. for less than half what I'd pay at other stores.
Christina | 08.25.15 @ 14:21
This time of year I stock up on school supplies. Hopefully have enough to last the year, watch for the best sales and look for coupons. I got enough notebooks, pens and pencils to last the year for free..
Daniel Dohlstrom | 08.25.15 @ 14:25
It seems every year the list grows not only due to increasing study needs but also because the schools do not provide teachers with enough suppies so parents need to supplement
gracie | 08.25.15 @ 14:30
The school isles have been messy and half empty for a week or 2 now so it looks like everyone spent plenty stocking up on all the sales! I think it's getting more expensive as the kids are needing more things like laptops especially as they get older!
Apryl | 08.25.15 @ 14:35
So glad I no longer have to think about school supplies!
Sara | 08.25.15 @ 14:35
Luckily I have not "had" to buy school supplies yet since I have an almost 3 year old. However, I do buy stuff on sale so when the time comes I have what she needs. Next to clothing that is. However, in my opinion it seems like school items up in price around July and then when the back to school shopping starts the prices get lowered some to show a "deal".
Steffanie | 08.25.15 @ 14:44
Our spending is finally getting cheaper as our kids are graduating.
Carla Truett | 08.25.15 @ 14:53
I look for sales year round. The supply list seems to get longer and more expensive every year.
Erin | 08.25.15 @ 14:53
I'm glad I don't have to deal with the hassle of school shopping. Crowds have been crazy in the stores around here the past couple of weeks.
Bobbie | 08.25.15 @ 15:17
I watch sales all year long and have a crazy stock pile of basic school supplies. I might spend $30 total, and that includes the back pack. Most things are on sale by the time my school district starts as it's the latest in the area.
Angie | 08.25.15 @ 15:53
I do like that kids are more involved, but I'm amazed at the amount of money that is being spent on the sports activities. Aren't there other things that allow our kids to be "well rounded" without all of that expense?
Irene | 08.25.15 @ 16:09
I'm glad my kid is grown and don't know how people afford everything these days. It seems like every year the schools supply less and less and expect the parents to supply more and more.
Meredith L | 08.25.15 @ 16:43
Thankfully I'm nearly done with the school shopping. I can tell you that I saved a lot by buying supplies throughout the year when they're on sale instead of waiting for the back to school rush. But like @Christina said in comments, the older the kids get the more expensive their supplies. I spent nearly $200 on a top of the line physics-type calculator! OY!
Nancy | 08.25.15 @ 16:49
I don't spend anywhere near the $1,200 amount. I am a bargain shopper and would fail at budgeting if I spent that much. I think the amount spent on sports is a close figure for us.
Alec | 08.25.15 @ 17:21
My daughter isn't school age yet but I plan on starting to stock up in March or so next year since she'll be starting that fall. I'll spread out my spending and find good deals before the rush.
Crystal | 08.25.15 @ 17:33
I purchase different supplies all year to cut down on how much i will spend in the fall.
Kamie | 08.25.15 @ 18:09
I never understood why things needed to be more, keep it simple, kids do not need iPads to learn on, paper and pencil never went wrong.
Sarah | 08.25.15 @ 18:55
I am floored by the amount. I homeschool five and if you exclude the cost of the computers (which we already had before homeschooling), we don't spend nearly that much! Goodness... So much for free education.
Chelsey | 08.25.15 @ 18:57
I still haven't gone shopping for the last of my child's supplies. I try to stretch it out so it's not all happening at once.
Crystal | 08.25.15 @ 20:33
I'm sorry - over $1,000 on school supplies?!?! Were the gold crayons really gold? We spend between $50 and $100. Walmart rules.
trish | 08.25.15 @ 21:01
I am still at the younger part of this spectrum, so I can still purchase my supplies the year before, when the clearance prices start a few weeks after school starts!
Jay Schurman | 08.25.15 @ 21:41
Perhaps you are leaving out one area which needs to be addressed. In the last 30 years our public schools have dramatically increased spending on administrators that never are in front of the students. Eliminating these positions will leave a lot more resources for teachers and student supplies. Check out any figures and you can see that education performance has decreased as administrators have greatly increased. Why should we allow this to continue unabated?
Rindy | 08.25.15 @ 21:49
I tend to buy throughout the year so the expense doesn't hurt so much. As far as cutting expenses at home go we create more fun family time with games and red box movies.
Heather | 08.25.15 @ 22:18
The supplies weren't nearly as costly as our school fees this year. It's crazy everything you have to pay for once the kids get to school.
Ron | 08.25.15 @ 23:00
We spend about $225 each year that is meant for two years. But we manage to use it all.
Rychana Vingia | 08.25.15 @ 23:06
I don't have children myself but I have friends who their children's school have where you can buy everything for a flat rate and it is all delivered to the school. Saves them a good amount of money.
Andrea | 08.26.15 @ 00:17
I just decided to buy items here and there as they come on sale. My baby just started Kindergarten, so I know he will need these supplies for many years to come.
Wanda Langley | 08.26.15 @ 01:02
I do not need to shop for school supplies any longer since my kids are grown. I was shocked while looking through an ad at how much that they cost now. It has to be expensive for families with several children.
Joni | 08.26.15 @ 01:04
Each year I try to stock up each year so my list is not as long each year. It cuts down on how much I spend and I watch the sales as much as i can.
Beverly | 08.26.15 @ 01:52
School supplies used to be only pencils, erasers, and paper, now you have to buy kleenex, glue, markers, colored pencils, etc....for the entire class to share. So glad there are sales. It is interesting that we are willing to pay more the sports then for the paper and pencils.
Leah Gardner | 08.26.15 @ 02:22
I got the "donation list" from his teacher. Its ridiculous. What happened to all you need is paper and pencils.
Casey | 08.26.15 @ 02:24
I use the sales at this time of the year to stock up on the items they will need throughout the year. Otherwise I couldn't afford supplies.
Vaughn | 08.26.15 @ 04:38
I plan on buying the pre packed school supplies from the school so I don't have to stress about it.
Blake | 08.26.15 @ 15:28
Mine isn't in school yet but we're already making plans for school shopping so we aren't blindsided by some crazy amount that we can't pay all at once
Katie Greene | 08.26.15 @ 16:24
I'm so glad my kids are home schooled. There are so many things I can find at yard sales, on clearance and on sale that I can save money throughout the year instead of having to pay a set amount at the start of the year.
Debbie | 08.27.15 @ 04:33
I only have one child in public school this year and just for her I spent well over $50.00 in supplies and another $50 for a large durable jansport backpack.
Jane | 08.27.15 @ 04:55
I only need to get supplies to restock for the year. I wait for back-to-school sales, and spend about $25 for new notebooks, pens, pencils, etc.
Stokes | 08.28.15 @ 19:59
I hit up all the deals throughout the year, so I really spend less than $10/year on school supplies. My oldest son will enter high school next year so I expect that to increase exponentially.
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 12.11.16 @ 08:34
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