Financial Cents: The ABC's of back-to-school spending

Jaime Ochs, July 29, 2020

Back-to-school is an exciting time of year, and although this year may look a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing will remain the same: the all-encompassing supply list. No matter if your kids are heading back to the classroom or learning virtually, they will still need an array of supplies and have likely outgrown last year’s threads. Even among the uncertainty of the education landscape, consulting and advisory firm Deloitte forecasts that back-to-school spending will likely remain flat, reaching a collective $28.1 billion for K-12 students, or roughly $529 per student.1

To ensure back to school shopping doesn’t take too big of a bite out of your budget, check out the ABCs of back-to-school spending and some suggestions on ways to get your children involved.


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Assess your current inventory

There’s no need to buy new supplies when you can recycle or repurpose. Pull out your kid’s backpack and search the house for items that are on the supply list. This year, especially, you may find hardly used notebooks, fully sharpened pencils and more from a spring semester cut short.

Get your children involved –Give used supplies a face-lift with a fun art project. Allow your kids to personalize their supplies with markers, paint, washi tape or other craft material you have on hand. Explain to kids that repurposing and recycling a portion of the necessary supplies frees up money in the budget to spend on other things they may need or want.


Build a back-to-school budget – Determine how much you plan and can spend on back to school items. Then allocate your total to different back-to-school categories including supplies, technology and clothing. Also, check to see if your state offers a sales-tax free holiday. Many states offer a day or weekend in which they waive state sales tax on school items, meaning you can save up to 10% depending on where you live.

Get your children involved –  This is a great opportunity to teach needs versus wants. Ask you children to prioritize the items on their list. Perhaps a new device will help maximize their learning. If so, explain in order to get the device, they may have to forego the latest trend or name brand clothing for items that don’t break the bank.


Compare prices- While getting all of your supplies at one mega-store or online retailer may cut down on the time it takes to check off every item on your list, it may also cut into your budget. Consider comparing prices on higher dollar items, and be certain to search for coupons no matter where you shop.

Get your children involved – Hand over the weekly sales papers to your kids and challenge them to find the best deals on the supplies on their lists. For older kids, this is an opportunity to practice some math skills by challenging them to apply additional coupon discounts to the sale price.  


For more money management tips, check out Hancock Whitney Financial Cents, a free, online learning platform that covers an array of financial topics.


1 " 2020 Deloitte back-to-school survey," a 2020 survey produced by Deloitte Center for Industry Insights


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