Despite fears of a weakening economy, Dallas-Fort Worth parents plan to spend 45% more than the U.S. average to equip and supply children for a return to school, according to a new Deloitte survey.
Concerns about the mental health and well-being of children following the isolation of the pandemic and the Shooting at the school of Uvalde also encourage parents to open their wallets more widely.
Dallas-Fort Worth parents said they plan to spend $987 per child versus the national average of $661. Families also said they are “giving up the home-centric life” to spend more in stores ($435) than online ($339).
“It’s a good sign for our economy,” said Sam Loughry, consumer industry leader and Deloitte partner in Dallas.
Some spending in the United States is tied to a “reprioritization” that goes beyond pencils, notebooks, backpacks and uniforms, Loughry said. About 45% of D-FW parents responding to the survey said they had spent money on products and services to address their child’s mental health in the past year.
That’s more than the 36% nationally and includes wellness-related products such as Fitbits and smartwatches, weighted blankets for anxiety, sunlamps to help with depression and nutritional supplements.
Online or app-based classes and programs include yoga, meditation, and spiritual retreats. Other expenditures were for extracurricular activities in the areas of music, dance, sports and the arts. Day camps and holiday camps were also cited by parents.
The topic was added to the annual survey because mental health and wellness spending has become more “a priority since the pandemic and the Uvalde shootings,” Loughry said. He is the father of three children with one child entering middle school, another in high school and the oldest starting college this fall.
D-FW parents with wellness issues overall spend 11% more than average, he said.
A new element required this year by DISD relates to general security concerns.
The Dallas Independent School District requires its 70,000 middle and high school students bring transparent backpacks to school this year when classes begin on August 15. The district has purchased and will distribute the backpacks free of charge to every student in grades six through 12.
Clear and mesh backpacks priced at $11.89 were in stock at Walmart on Midway Road and LBJ Freeway in Dallas over the weekend. Walmart already has to restock school supplies every night.
Technology, the biggest merchandise category for back-to-school spending, is “taking a break” this year, Loughry said. Technology spending plans were down 12% from a year ago after the pandemic drove up purchases of computers and accessories.
Overall spending is down from the D-FW average of $1,087 last year.
Sales tax exemption
Many parents are waiting for the state sales tax exemption, which will take place this year from August 5-7, to save 8.25% on sales tax on items costing less than $100. But more than half of back-to-school spending takes place by the end of July, according to the Deloitte survey.
With six children, five of whom are school-aged, Edith Velazquez, 38, of Dallas, said she has ordered a class list online so far but has yet to receive all of the lists and expected to spend $500 total on supplies alone.
Like 57% of D-FW parents, Velazquez is concerned about inflation. “It doesn’t include uniforms, and it will be way more than $500,” she said.
Impact of inflation
Nearly a third of D-FW households (29%) said their financial situation was worse than last year compared to 15% last year. More than half (54%) said they expected the economy to weaken, down from 21% last year.
More than half of respondents (56%) said they would buy “durable products,” including used and refurbished items.
And nearly three-quarters of respondents to the Deloitte survey said they would swap brands if prices were too high or if their preferred choice was out of stock.
Retailers offer more private brands in addition to national brands. Target’s Up & Up brand glue stick two-pack is 25 cents versus Elmer’s same size at 55 cents. Walmart has a Mattel-owned brand called Cra-Z-Art that it sells alongside Crayola products.
Parents view back-to-school expenses, which come just after the Christmas season, as essential and will cut back on other areas to cover costs. Another survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics found that 38% of parents said they were redirecting their spending.
Total back-to-school spending in the United States is expected to match last year’s record $37 billion, according to the retail industry group. College income is expected to hit $74 billion, up from last year’s record high of $71 billion.
Teachers also spend
Teachers also scan the back-to-school aisles in search of bargains.
“I buy markers, glue and other things that I know I will need because prices are lower right now,” said Diana Topel, 39, a fourth-grade math teacher at DISD. . “Prices will be higher in two months,” she said, not just because of inflation, but because retailers are offering back-to-school specials.
Most school districts give teachers stipends of $200 on their first paycheck of the school year to cover extra classroom costs. But many teachers are spending double or more, according to surveys.
“A lot of students come from economically struggling homes and don’t bring their supplies,” Topel said.