Parent and child with buggy full of school supplies.
Bloomberg/Getty Images

Despite parents’ best efforts to maintain a budget and limit unnecessary spending, many find it difficult to withstand pressures to overspend, especially during the already-stressful back-to-school season.

Bankrate’s latest survey reveals that 43 percent of parents who have been back-to-school shopping, including 51 percent with children under age 18, feel pressured to overspend on items like clothing, school supplies and tech products.

That mounting pressure is nearly equal to the stress parents undergo during the winter holiday season; 57 percent of parents with children under age 18 who give gifts felt pressured to overspend on holiday shopping in 2018, according to Bankrate’s survey data.

“For many parents, 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,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate. “It’s important to identify your spending triggers and set limits.”

Everyday spending pressures

Beyond back-to-school season, the survey also found that nearly half (49 percent) of Americans feel pressure to overspend in order to look successful in the eyes of others.

The most popular items respondents say they’ve felt pressured to overspend on include clothing, shoes and jewelry (23 percent). These material items are followed closely by social activities and dining out (22 percent) and cars (18 percent).

And while the most common offender in perpetuating overspending expectations is friends (37 percent), respondents also feel pressure from spouses or significant others (30 percent), extended family (25 percent) and their own children (23 percent).

Staying out of debt

The good news is that while many people have been pressured into overspending, even more are unwilling to take on debt because of it.

Just 25 percent of respondents admit to charging something to a credit card that they couldn’t afford in order to look successful to others, while 75 percent have not (though some would consider it).

Overspending by demographic

Millennials are more likely than older generations (64 percent versus 40 percent) to feel pressure to overspend, and they’re the most likely to say they’re influenced by their friends to do so (45 percent). At 27 percent, millennials are also most likely to feel pressured by social media, versus 8 percent of older respondents.

That trend continues for parents facing back-to-school spending pressures. Fifty-six percent of millennial parents who have gone back-to-school shopping have felt pressured to spend more than they would like, compared to just 39 percent of parents in older generations.

When it comes to back-to-school shopping, geography can play a role, too. At 46 percent, parents who have been back-to-school shopping in the Northeast are most likely to feel pressure to overspend.

Back-to-school budgeting

Luckily, retailers make it easy for parents to score great prices on supplies for the upcoming school year. Planning ahead and setting spending limits can help you resist the urge to bust your back-to-school budget.

Be diligent

“Set realistic spending parameters so you get the items you need without going overboard,” says Spencer Stephens, financial planner and founder of Rooted Interest Financial Planning. “If you feel the need to buy your kid a new outfit, go into the store with a planned amount to spend so you can fight off impulse purchases.”

Consider dedicating a single day to back-to-school shopping and only bring the amount of money you choose to budget for those expenses. Divide your cash into categories so you don’t spend too much on clothing and have nothing left over for classroom items and supplies.

You can even turn the activity into a learning experience. Let your child decide how to allocate back-to-school funds to learn about prioritizing items within a budget.

Get rewarded with a credit card

“If you plan in advance, a zero percent intro APR credit card can help you spread the payments out over time to lessen the initial blow,” Rossman says. “Otherwise, there are several cards with generous sign-up bonuses that can reward you for things you are buying anyway.”

Back-to-school shoppers may even benefit from a retail card like the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card or Target REDcard, which both earn 5 percent back at those retailers for no annual fee (except your Prime membership fee with the Amazon card). Just remember to resist spending any more than you can pay off at the end of the month, as interest rates on these cards can run high.

Look for deals

As back-to-school shopping season heats up, there will be no shortage of sales and discounts to help ease your spending burden. School supply retailers like Staples, Target and Office Depot are already discounting back-to-school items by up to 75 percent, and Apple is offering up to $200 off Mac purchases with education pricing.

Consider shopping during your state’s sales tax holiday weekend, especially for expensive items like laptops or tablets. You’ll have to compete with other parents taking advantage of tax-free spending, but it’s a great time to save.

Many participating states will hold their tax holidays the first weekend of August, but you can verify your state here.

Resisting everyday pressures

Find lasting solutions to spending pressures that will ensure you stay within your budget the next time you’re tempted by an expensive night out or your child needs a new school wardrobe.

Budgeting that works for you

Budgets are essential to combat overspending, but you should ensure your budget is flexible enough to withstand any pressure you feel to overspend.

Stephens recommends building a budget with room for “empowered spending.”

“Most people don’t enjoy budgeting because we tend to cut the small joys out of our lives,” he says. “However, if you keep a little bit of your budget open to empowered spending, you will have a much better chance of sticking with your overall budget.”

Allocate a certain amount per week toward things that are important to you or that you tend to overspend on, whether that’s a night out, holiday shopping or travel. Set up a separate savings account with automated contributions for those things or occasions you want to splurge on so you can build up the money over time instead of depleting your budget all at once.

Build a support system

“Let your friends and family know that you are trying to stick with a budget and offer lower cost or free alternatives when they suggest an activity,” Stephens says. “You will find there are ways to cultivate your relationships that are cheaper than spending money on movies or going out to dinner all the time.”

Letting your loved ones⁠—especially those most likely to pressure you into spending more than you’re comfortable with⁠—know that you’re working on a budget can effectively stop the overspending pressure from mounting next time you’re tempted. Instead of convincing you to spend more, they can act as accountability partners in your savings goals.

The information about the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Methodology

Bankrate.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,744 adults, including 1,534 parents. Fieldwork was undertaken on July 2-5, 2019. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.