Back-to-School Shopping Budgets Remain High Amid Inflation

Parents got a head start on back-to-school shopping on Amazon Prime Day and will be looking for savings during the rest of summer, writes retail & e-commerce analyst Claire Tassin
Graphic conveying the back-to-school season with a parent kissing a child goodbye in front of a school bus.
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
July 27, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Nearly half (46%) of parents have started back-to-school shopping already, and 42% of parents who shopped the Amazon Prime Day sale were able to snag back-to-school discounts early.

  • While inflation is cooling, household budgets are still straining under sticky higher prices, and parents are increasing their back-to-school budgets for the second year in a row.

  • Back-to-school shopping is unavoidable for families, so they’ll be on the hunt for ways to save, including late-summer sales and secondhand shopping.

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Back-to-school season is upon us. Even if the idea of fresh notebooks and pencils conjures comforting nostalgia rather than existential dread, it feels far too early to tackle those school shopping lists. But for the nearly half (46%) of parents who had started their shopping as of mid-July, the season is in full swing — and 4% have finished their back-to-school shopping entirely. Among those who are not so keen, 29% said they plan to start shopping in late July, and 49% expect to start in early August. 

July’s Amazon Prime Day and related sales kicked off the season with deep discounts on key categories for school-aged kids. More than 2 in 5 parents (42%) took advantage of Amazon’s sale to shop for school, and back-to-school was a popular category for parents shopping Walmart+ Week and Target Circle Week as well.

Parents’ spending plans are consistent from 2022, when inflation substantially adjusted back-to-school budgets

The 2023 back-to-school shopping season is poised to be as expensive as 2022’s, despite cooling inflation. Last year, parents’ forecast spending shot upward amid peak price growth, and their 2023 forecasts are similar to what they predicted in 2022. While the share of U.S. adults who are “very concerned” about inflation has moderated (down to 47% from a series high of 64% a year ago), household budgets are still sustaining higher prices in key back-to-school categories like apparel, and parents are factoring that into their plans. 

2023 Back-to-School Budgets Mirror 2022’s Inflation-Driven Increase

Share of parents who said they plan to spend the following amounts on back-to-school shopping in total:
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Surveys conducted in August 2018, August 2019, July 2020, August 2021, May and June 2022, and July 2023 among 3,695 total U.S. parents planning to make back-to-school purchases for their children, with unweighted margins of error of up to +/-6 percentage points. “Don’t know/No opinion” responses are not shown.

In a follow-up survey conducted in September 2022, parents’ reported total back-to-school spending was consistent with their forecasts, and we expect similar results this year. Trends in spending plans predictably vary by family size and income level.

Category-level spending estimates are similar to 2022 as well, particularly for clothing and school supplies, though parents expect to spend more on electronics, books and home goods than they did last year

Clothing and School Supplies Dominate Back-to-School Budgets

Share of parents who said they plan to spend the following amounts in each category:
Clustered bar chart of the share of parents who said they plan to spend these amounts in each category. The chart shows clothing and school supplies dominate back-to-school budget.
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Survey conducted July 13-15, 2023, among 935 U.S. parents planning to make back-to-school purchases for their children, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

School supplies and clothing were popular purchases for parents who tackled back-to-school lists during the Amazon Prime Day sale, where the median back-to-school spend was $200 — a substantial portion of most families’ budgets. 

Families are attuned to sales and secondhand goods for budget-friendly shopping

While the families who got a jump-start on shopping earlier in July had many discounts to help them along, those who waited haven’t necessarily missed out on deals. Early-bird families tend to have higher incomes and thus flexible budgets that allow them to shop earlier: 56% of households earning at least $100,000 annually have started back-to-school shopping, while just 39% of those earning under $50,000 have started. So, late-season shoppers are likely to be more price sensitive.

Specific demographics at scale: Surveying thousands of consumers around the world every day powers our ability to examine and analyze perceptions and habits of more specific demographics at scale, like those featured here.

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Now that the July sales — including Amazon Prime Day, Walmart+ Week and Target Circle Week — have passed, families are planning to save on back-to-school shopping by taking advantage of regional tax-free weekends (36%) and Labor Day sales (29%). 

Secondhand shopping also offers a budget-friendly option, and while it comprises a small share of parents’ overall shopping plans, twice as many parents said they’ll buy used home goods and school supplies this year compared with last year.

More Parents Plan to Buy Secondhand School Supplies and Home Goods This Year

Respondents were asked how they plan to get the following back-to-school items:
Stacked bar chart of how respondents plan to get each back-to-school item, showing twice as many parents said they’ll buy used home goods and school supplies this year compared with last year.
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Surveys conducted June 11-12 and June 23-25, 2022, and July 13-15, 2023, among 1,866 total U.S. parents planning to make back-to-school purchases for their children, with unweighted margins of error of +/-3 percentage points. “Don’t know” responses are not shown.

Parents across income brackets are planning to take advantage of secondhand shopping. Families with younger children are more likely to shop secondhand for clothes and school supplies than those with kids in high school and college. 

A headshot photograph of Claire Tassin
Claire Tassin
Lead Retail & E-Commerce Analyst

Claire Tassin previously worked at Morning Consult as the lead retail & e-commerce analyst.

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