Average Cost of Back To School $900.


August is winding up, and the big box stores have rolled out their Back to School displays, ushering in the 2nd biggest shopping season of the year.  According to a recent study by RetailMeNot.ca the average Canadian family is looking at spending almost $900.00 for back to school expenses.

According to research by Ernst and Young, the overall cost of back-to-school is expected to be 4% higher then it was last year.  More research conducted by RetailMeNot.ca suggests that 44% of Canadian families find that back-to-school shopping is a burden on their finances, and only half of Canadian families actually budget for the back-to-school season.

At Credit Counselling Services of Sault Ste. Marie and District, we often see these expenses put on credit cards with the thought of paying the bill off over time.  Unfortunately, this allows the total cost of back to school shopping to grow.

Surprisingly, if you paid for your child’s entire back to school expenses of $900.00 on credit, and only paid the minimum payment, it would take an astounding 23 years to pay off the bill, plus an extra $2,215.00 in interest expenses (at an annual interest of 19.9%).

Here are a few tips to help you maximize your back to school budget.

Take an inventory:

Especially for children going to elementary and high school, many of the supplies they had this past year will be usable this coming school year.  Take stock of what your child has and only aim to replace those things that are worn out or missing.

This seems like a straightforward suggestion, but research by Deloitte from 2017 suggests that this isn’t always the case.  Families last year were expected to spend on average $104.00 covering just school supplies (pens, paper, notebooks, etc), this is likely going to be slightly higher this year.

To get your children involved, get them to make a list of the supplies that they feel they will need for the upcoming school year.  Use this list to identify what they already have and what they still need.  This helps children feel involved in the process of purchasing their back to school supplies, but also opens the door to discussions around needs and wants.

Plan your technology purchases carefully:

According to RetailMeNot.ca’s research, 40% of parents state that their children care more about having the coolest technology over having the coolest clothing.  This puts parents into a tough position when it comes to technology purchases.

However, this is a great opportunity to discuss needs and wants. Have your child make a list of what perceived technology needs they have, and then discuss with your children how this will benefit their schooling.  Whittle down the list provided by your children to the essentials for school. With this list, have your child do their research either online or in person.  If your child is drawn to a machine that is perceived as cooler than others are, see how many of the must-haves it checks off from the list they created.  If it doesn’t meet their needs then encourage them to keep looking.

When buying new technology for your child, try to remember that what is new today may be obsolete in 2-3 years.  Specifications are always changing, so know what your child will need and try to identify a few options online before hitting the stores.  A little bit of homework will go a long way in ensuring you get the right mix of a deal and computing power.

Look at Back to School as a year-long expense:

By focusing on just what your children need for September and budgeting just for that, many other school-related expenses are missed.  Think about winter boots and jackets that need replacing, the lost lunch bag or backpack.  What about pizza lunches, field trips, proms, and grad trips?  Working these expenses into a school-year long budget will help you plan and avoid having to shell out money you were not expecting to spend.

Shop with your children:

Back-to-school shopping is a great opportunity to teach fundamental money management skills.  If you are shopping with older children who have some money of their own, allow them to pitch in on back to school shopping.  Discuss with them an agreed upon amount that you are willing to spend.  If they want something more expensive, allow them to make up the difference.  This will help them to understand the purchasing process and the value of money by allowing them to make safe financial decisions.

With younger children, allow them to hold the list and help you find the items.  Explain the purchasing process, don’t let them just see you pay with debit or credit, but explain how that process works.  When a child only sees adults using cards, they don’t fully grasp where the money is coming from, especially when put on credit.

Once the back to school dust has settled, tally up your total cost.  Use this number as your guide for next year’s shopping so that you can start saving this year for next year’s expenses.  For example, if you spent $1,000 on all back to school costs this year, you would need to start saving $83.00 a month.  It is a lot easier to come up with $83.00 every month then it is to come up with $1,000.00 in one month.  By doing this, you can be sure to have the cash on hand to buy next year’s supplies or pay off the credit card balance in full.


  1. Education is not cheap. I have three teenagers and my wife, all in school. My oldest daughter was accepted into the school of nursing and that is not cheap. Between books, supplies and clothing, I blew $1000 the other day and more costs to come.. The other two are finishing high school and with uniforms it has been quite a chunk of cash and the end is not in sight. Best part is , they are all A plus students. At least they are all directed with a career plan so success will be inevitable. As stated in the article, using a credit card is a sure way to dig the debt hole even deeper. We pay cash for everything and that is a real saving. I prefer to make interest on the money we have rather than pay ridiculous interest rates on borrowed money. Hi Ho, Ho HO, it’s off to school we go.

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