Last year’s back-to-school season was like no other. Instead of pencils, backpacks, and clothes, surveys show the majority of 2020 school spending went toward technology for at-home learning. Hopefully, this year’s return to school will be a little more like years in the past.

Last year, the National Retail Federation surveyed parents who said they would be purchasing more technology and equipment, such as laptops, electronics accessories, desks, and printers. Technology accounted for the largest share of the spending increase. The survey showed parents of children in K-12 planned to spend an average of $789.49 per family, topping the previous record.

Online shopping increased and more than half of parents used the Internet to buy. Contactless shopping such as buy online and pick up in store also increased. In a different survey, Deloitte found that last year, shopping at mass retailers decreased for in-person shopping, as parents chose stores closer to home.

So, what should your back-to-school budget look like for fall 2021? That depends on your local school district. One thing is for certain — it will help to prioritize needs over wants to keep your spending down.

After a year of school at home, clothes might top the shopping list. Before you start shopping, inventory what you have that still fits. Consider selling items your child no longer wears at a consignment store to earn a few extra dollars. This may be someplace to shop as well. If it is too much of a financial burden to buy everything at once, spread out the cost over the different seasons. Just make sure to include the amount in your regular budget.

Before shopping for the regular school supply list, check your home to see what you might already have on hand. Check for sales and discounts. And, finally, stick to your list. Without a list, it’s tempting to buy more of those wants than you really need!


Shearman, J. Craig. (July 15, 2020) Coronavirus could push back-to-school spending to record level as uncertain families gear up for at-home learning. National Retail Federation. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from

Deloitte. (July 2020) 2020 Deloitte back-to-school survey: Learning to grow amidst uncertainty. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from

Source: Kelly May, Senior Extension Associate for Family Finance and Resource Management

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