By Annie Kim
Last Updated: July 24, 2023
The typical parent expects to spend nearly $600 on school supplies this year, and more than half of parents are concerned they won’t be able to afford everything their kids need for class.
Though inflation rates in the U.S. have eased since reaching a 40-year-high last fall, many parents are still apprehensive about back-to-school spending this year. They want to provide their children with the tools they need for academic success, but concerns about the national economy are causing many parents to spend conservatively.
For the past three years, we’ve interviewed thousands of parents for our annual back-to-school spending studies. This year, we asked parents a fresh set of questions about their shopping plans and their financial concerns. We also rounded up the best back-to-school deals and state tax holidays to help you strategize your shopping and save on school supplies.
- 54% of parents are very concerned that rising costs might prevent them from purchasing all the items their children need for school, up from 46% in 2022.
- Though inflation has cooled slightly since last summer, 47% of parents expect to spend more this year than last year on school supplies.
- The typical parent expects to pay $592 for supplies, backpacks, and services like haircuts for the new school year. Clothing is the costliest category: parents plan to spend an average of $142 per child on new clothes for school.
- 43% of all parents say they will seek financial assistance to help pay for back-to-school items, and 66% plan to take advantage of tax-free shopping holidays to cut costs.
Parents are bracing for back-to-school costs
Though inflation has come down after hitting a 40-year-high last year, many parents are still concerned about the costs of school supplies and might crack down on their spending. In fact, 34% of parents with children attending K-12 schools say they will spend over $600 on classroom supplies and clothing this year.
|Estimated spending on school supplies, per household||2022||2023|
|$0 - $149||11%||12%|
|$150 - $299||19%||19%|
|$300 - $449||18%||20%|
|$450 - $599||15%||16%|
Taking a closer look at per-child spending on back-to-school items, we noticed some interesting changes. Spending estimates declined year over year in many categories, including electronics, clothing, and basic school supplies. This may indicate that consumers want to be slightly more conservative with their spending due to economic worries.
|Average spending on back-to-school items per child||2022||2023|
|Basic school supplies||$63||$56|
Clothing will make up the lion’s share of back-to-school costs again this year. Parents plan to spend over $140 per child on clothes for the new academic year. The costs for shirts, socks, shoes, and pants can quickly add up, especially for growing youngsters. Since young children grow fast, parents must replace their clothing regularly. Additionally, if children switch schools, they may need different clothing items to comply with new dress codes or uniforms.
Many parents also take their children to the doctor or hair salon before starting a new school year, so they also factor these costs into their budgets. On average, parents spent $26 per child on fresh haircuts and $20 on checkups at the pediatrician.
Increasing numbers of parents are very concerned that they won’t be able to afford necessary school supplies
Concerns about inflation persist as families prepare for back-to-school shopping in 2023. Our research revealed a significant increase in the share of parents who felt moderately or extremely concerned about inflation impacting their ability to purchase all the supplies their children need.
According to Gallup, many Americans have low confidence in the U.S. economy, though the economy has had a relatively strong recovery since the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2023, 33% of Americans said the economy was the nation's biggest problem. Though unemployment remains low and inflation has stabilized, many people may still harbor worries due to high housing costs and waves of high-profile layoffs.
|Percent of parents seeking financial assistance for back-to-school purchases||2022||2023|
|Backpacks and basic school supplies||69%||68%|
|Clothing or school uniforms||62%||57%|
|Services such as haircuts and physicals||42%||46%|
As a result of economic concerns, approximately 43% of parents reported they would seek help in covering back-to-school expenses, whether from family, friends, or charitable programs. Each year, organizations like The Salvation Army, United Way, and Operation Homefront offer assistance for low-income families in need of school supplies and clothing. Visit their websites to find programs and events in your area.
2 in 3 parents will take advantage of tax-free shopping holidays
To maximize savings, more parents are capitalizing on tax-free weekends offered in many states. This year, 66% of respondents expressed their intention to shop during these tax-free periods, a slight increase over last year.
These events allow families to save on sales tax, making back-to-school shopping a little lighter on the wallet. Currently, 17 states have announced tax holidays around back-to-school time.
Here’s a look at what’s planned across the country, including limits on tax-free purchases:
|State||2023 tax holiday dates||Items included and upper spending limits for tax exemptions|
|Alabama||July 21–23||clothing – $100 computers – $750 school supplies – $50 books – $30|
|Arkansas||August 5–6||clothing – $100 school supplies|
|Connecticut||August 20–26||clothing and footwear – $100|
|Florida||July 24–Aug 6||school supplies – $50 clothing – $100 computers – $1,500|
|Iowa||August 4–5||clothing – $100|
|Maryland||August 13–19||clothing & footwear – $100|
|Massachusetts||August 12-13||many retail items up to $2,500, clothing exempt up to $175|
|Mississippi||July 28–29||clothing & footwear – $100|
|Missouri||August 4–6||clothing – $100 computers – $1,500 school supplies – $50|
|New Jersey||Aug. 26–Sep. 4||school and art supplies instruction materials computers – $3,000|
|New Mexico||August 4–6||clothing – $100 computers – $1,000 computer equipment – $500 school supplies – $30|
|Ohio||August 4–6||clothing – $75 school supplies – $20|
|Oklahoma||August 4–6||clothing – $100|
|South Carolina||August 4–6||clothing school supplies computers other|
|Tennessee||July 28–30||clothing – $100 school supplies – $100 computers – $1,500|
|Texas||August 11–13||clothing, backpacks, and school supplies – $100|
|West Virginia||Aug. 4–7||clothing – $125 school supplies – $20 sports equipment – $150 computers or tablets – $500|
Where to find the best back-to-school deals
Even if no tax holidays are offered where you live, many major national retailers offer discounts on clothing, tech, and school supplies. Here’s a look at the best deals this fall:
At Macy’s, you can save up to 50% off kid's clothing and accessories, including a large selection of uniform shirts, pants, and skorts from Nautica.
Old Navy has bargains on uniform clothes like pants and polo shirts, as well as extra percentages off certain items with promo codes.
The Children’s Place
Get uniform styles for up to 40 percent off normal prices and backpacks 25% off with coupon codes from The Children’s Place.
In addition to sales on clothes and school supplies, Walmart is an excellent option for deals on back-to-school laptops and tablets.
College students (as well as K-12 and college instructors) are eligible for Apple gift cards and discounts on AppleCare+ with certain purchases, including iPads, iMacs, and MacBooks.
Save 15% on your first order, including backpacks and lunchboxes, when you sign up for emails. College students and teachers get 15% off all purchases with a valid ID.
Stock up on school supplies like notebooks, folders, and crayons, which start at 50 cents, or backpacks starting at $17.99, at Office Depot
Shop school supplies for as little as 25 cents at Target. They’re offering backpacks under $20 and water bottles starting at $6.99. Teachers and school workers are also eligible for 20% off certain items between 7/16-8/26.
Get pencils, glue sticks, and erasers for as little as 50 cents each and lined filler paper for under $1 at Staples.
We surveyed 483 U.S. adults with children attending K-12 schools; our survey was conducted online in July 2023. The median annual income of the families in our study was between $75,000-$99,999. 45% of respondents had one child attending K-12 school in the fall of 2023, 38% had two, 11% had three, and 5% had four or more children.