As school approaches, parents are getting ready to open their wallets and spend like they do at this time every year. In 2021, U.S. parents are expected to spend about $612 on back-to-school supplies per child, according to a new survey by Deloitte. That number is up from $529 last year.

Meanwhile in Canada, parents spent about $727 per child on back-to-school supplies in 2020, according to the Retail Council of Canada. That figure was down slightly from $919 in 2019 due to COVID-19, with many students learning from home. However, more parents are expected to send their kids to in-person learning this year as the economy continues to open up, and those back-to-school expenses are expected to rise.

Planning for school expenses, including supplies, clothing, and even extra curricular activities like field trips and sporting activities, can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be if you think ahead.

One key thing to do is categorize your expenses as either committed or spendable. Committed expenses are non-emotional expenses that are predictable, like your child’s sports fees for the year. Meanwhile, spendable expenses are highly emotional and are both necessary and unnecessary, like field trip fees or buying snacks while watching your child’s ball game. To learn more about spendable expenses, click here to check out our support article on spendable basics and tips.

Here are some additional tips to help parents plan and save for school expenses and extra curricular activities. 

  1. Plan ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to shop. If you do, you’ll be rushed and may miss out on special deals. Check out any savings or clearance items that stores may have (think buy one, get one free, or 50% off). This is extra handy when it comes to shopping for clothes and supplies, like binders and pencils.
  2. Keep a list of what you have from last year. Often, items like backpacks and lunchboxes can be reused. And your child may still be able to use their pencil case, or have leftover pencils, crayons or notebooks from last year. Once you know what you already have, make a list of necessary items for this year. Some popular categories include: school supplies, clothes and shoes, books and technology.
  3. Set a spending limit. And stick to it! Budgeting isn’t very effective to manage day-to-day spending, but it’s very useful when you apply it to something that has a beginning and an end like your back-to-school shopping. Be sure to avoid impulse buys. While it can be hard when your kid is begging for the latest tech gadget or brand-name clothing, it’s important to not overspend. Include children in the discussion about the  limit and help them understand that going over it will cause something else to be sacrificed (i.e. going over that limit will impact other expenses you have this month). Perhaps they can get that item during next month’s shopping excursion, when your spending limit resets. Don’t miss out on using back-to-school shopping as an opportunity to discuss and model healthy financial habits.
  4. Try one extra curricular at a time. Perhaps one term it’s swimming lessons. Maybe next term it’s trying out a tumbling club. Focusing on one extracurricular will help ensure your child doesn’t burn out, and makes it easier to manage your cash flow. They’ll take the time to enjoy this single activity and perhaps realize a new passion. Once they find something they really enjoy, you could choose to invest only in that activity.

So as school approaches, don't stress. Once you’ve created your plan, you’ll be able to better manage all expected and unexpected back-to-school expenses. Happy shopping!


Deloitte (2021, July). 2021 Deloitte back-to-school survey. Deloitte. URL

Retail Council of Canada (2020, August 24). RCC back to school survey 2020. Retail Council of Canada. URL