Beyond Backpacks and Books: Back-to-School Spending Increases as Parents Purchase More Gadgets for the Classroom

82% of Parents Say Children Use Technology for Learning

Parents Also Expect to Spend an Average of $455 per Child on After-School Programs in 2015, Up 20% from 2014

NEW YORK--()--With back-to-school season around the corner, parents and students alike are gearing up to buy this year’s school supplies. Overall, parents anticipate spending an average of $1,239 this back-to-school season, according to the latest American Express Spending & Savings Tracker, up 8% from 2014, and up 24% since 2011. Technology for classroom use is a significant contributor to the added costs, with 82% saying their children use tech for learning (vs. 77% in 2014), including the following:

  • Tablets (57% vs. 51% in 2014)
  • Smartphones (29% vs. 24% in 2014)
  • Smartboards (18% vs. 17% in 2014)
  • eReaders (12% vs. 15% in 2014)

View/download the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker

“Today’s parents are managing an ever-growing checklist for back-to-school season,” said Jed Scala, Senior Vice President, Consumer Lending at American Express. “The mass adoption of technology has filtered down to the classroom, changing the way kids learn and the way parents spend.”

Where Textbooks and Technology Meet

With tech playing an increasing role in the classroom, smartphones are notably becoming a go-to gadget, with 29% of parents saying their children use them for learning, up 21% from 2014. Despite the increase in mobile phone use in the classroom, parents say the average acceptable age for a cell phone remains at 12, consistent over the last two years.

While technology is expanding its role in the classroom, textbooks still play a major role as a learning tool. In fact, 57% of parents expect to purchase textbooks this school year, up from 51% from last year. This year, parents expect to spend an average of $249 on these reading resources.

Parents Put the “Extra” in Extracurricular

Activities outside the classroom also contribute to the pinch on parents’ wallets. Parents expect to spend an average of $455 per child on after-school programs11 in 2015, up 20% from 2014. Although “sports” is the most popular and most expensive after-school activity, on average, parents would rather their kids earn straight A's (86%) than be a star athlete (14%), which is further evidenced by the slight rise in academically oriented extracurricular activities over last year, such as SAT/ACT/Test prep (up 7% from 2014) and academic tutoring (up 14% from 2014).

Top extracurricular activities and average spend for each include:

Activity       Percentage       Average Spend
Sports activities       60%       $195
Band, choir or music       27%       $152
Hobby groups       27%       $110
Volunteer activities       22%       $138
Art programs       18%       $148

Academic courses (SAT, ACT, etc.)

      16%       $166

Parents are spending more on their kids’ extracurriculars, but they may find themselves limiting their own activities as a result of back-to-school season. Nearly three quarters of parents will make trade-offs in order to afford back-to-school expenses; of those, more than half of parents (53%) cut down on dining out.

About the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker

The American Express Spending & Saving Tracker research was completed online among a random sample of 2,127 adults, including the general U.S. population, an affluent demographic defined by a minimum annual household income of $100,000, parents of children of grade school children, and parents of college students. Interviewing was conducted by Ebiquity from July 6 - 10, 2015. The results among parents of children in kindergarten through college have an overall margin of error of +/- 2.5 at the 95 percent level of confidence.

About American Express

American Express is a global services company, providing customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success. Learn more at and connect with us on,,,, and

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About Ebiquity, Plc.

Ebiquity are independent marketing performance specialists. Ebiquity enables brands across the world to make better informed decisions to improve their brand and business performance across integrated communications channels. Learn more at

1 87% expect to enroll their child in at least one activity


American Express
Jane Di Leo, 212-640-2000


American Express
Jane Di Leo, 212-640-2000