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Millennial parents fight pressure to overspend on back-to-school shopping

Key Points
  • The National Retail Federation estimates back-to-school spending will top $80 billion in 2019.
  • Bankrate.com found 4 in 10 parents who have done their back-to-school shopping have felt pressured to overspend.
  • Millennial parents are most likely to say they have felt pressured to spend more than they are comfortable with on back-to-school supplies.
Philippe Huguen | AFP | Getty Images

From beach bags to book bags, students are gearing up to head back to school.

For parents, that means opening their wallets.

A recent survey from the National Retail Federation anticipates 2019 will be a significant spending year for school and college supplies. The survey of 7,660 consumers, conducted online in early July, estimates sales for the shopping season will total a record $80.7 billion.

"Consumers are in a strong position, given the nation's growing economy, and we see this reflected in what they say they will spend on back-to-class items this year," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

"We're expecting record spending, and retailers are ready to provide students with all the items they need for a successful school year."

Yet for millennial parents, a spending spree on supplies, clothing and tech accessories can be a financial worry.

Back-to-school budgeting

More than 4 in 10 parents (43%) who have done back-to-school shopping have felt pressured to overspend, a new Bankrate.com report found.

"Back-to-school shopping can be just as daunting as the holiday shopping season, and the pressure to overspend — whether from your own children, social media or somewhere else — can wreak havoc on a budget," said Bankrate.com analyst Ted Rossman.

While the temptation to overspend affects most demographics equally, Bankrate found more than half of millennial parents (ages 23-38) felt pressure to spend more than they were comfortable with, compared with 39% of older parents.

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"I have to shop around for the best deals, but I know that I will likely go over budget," said guardian Genesis Garfio, a millennial.

It's not always due to luxury splurges. Garfio's two children will be starting fourth and eighth grade in the fall in Houston. With limited funding, the school often relies on parents like Garfio to contribute communal items such as hand sanitizer and dry erase markers.

"The school knows what students can afford and they use it all, so I am happy to spend a little extra when I know everyone will will be benefiting."

Over the years, both teens and preteens are spending more of their own money on back-to-school items.
Michael Shay
NRF president and CEO

Some schools are even hosting supply drives to help students get the items they need.

"The elementary school sells a bundle of all the supplies needed for each grade," said millennial parent Jana Bodner.

Some time-squeezed parents are going online, or straight to the school, to find what they need. Despite her busy schedule as a full-time attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Bodner has already completed her school shopping for her daughter, who's entering the first grade.

"I have friends who enjoy going to the stores and finding everything on the list, but I'm glad that there's an option — not just a cheaper option — for working parents who don't have the time to go around to all the different stores."

Handling the pressure

Retailers such as Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy and Macy's are featuring back-to school deals and specific web pages to alleviate shopper's stress ahead of the fall retail rush — sometimes discounting items by up to 75%.

Apple is offering up to $200 off Mac purchases with education pricing.

Even some students themselves are cracking open their piggy banks and spending their savings on school necessities.

Among K-12 shoppers, the retail federation says teens are expected to spend an average $36.71 of their own money, up from $30.88 10 years ago, while preteens are estimated to spend $26.40, up from $11.94.

"Members of Generation Z are clearly becoming more involved with back-to-school purchasing decisions rather than leaving the choices up to mom and dad," said Shay.

"Over the years, both teens and preteens are spending more of their own money on back-to-school items."

Many states and Puerto Rico offer tax-free shopping periods to drive sales. Here's a list.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.