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.