Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders Why Back to School Means Big Bucks

Why Back to School Means Big Bucks

All across the country during the next couple weeks, parents will celebrate their favorite day of the year…the first day of school! But as most parents know, this bliss comes with a price tag.

This year, two items will dominate “back to school” shopping lists…and neither is cheap.

The Costs of the Classroom
My 5-year old, and only child, starts kindergarten this week. It’s a big step for our family. It’s also turning out to be a big hit to the wallet.

I was just handed the materials-required sheet; every office supply known to man is on the list: colored pencils and crayons, paper reams and plastic bags, sanitizer and scissors, binders and backpacks, stencils and scotch tape. Seems the only thing missing is a launch computer from NASA.

Oh wait. I forgot to mention the school uniforms.

There’s some comfort in realizing my wife and I are not alone in this scam called education…. American Express recently polled 800 parents of school-aged kids and found that they were planning on spending approximately $800 as their kids returned to school this year. Those parents estimated that almost half of that amount would be spent on shoes and clothes…name brand shoes and designer clothes, that is.

The number of parents willing to spend extra money on “top shelf” apparel increased slightly from last year. But it won’t be a huge boost for the economy overall because those same parents said they were planning on compensating for school-related expenses by dining out less, cutting back on entertainment, and buying fewer clothes for themselves.

Still, “back to school” shopping represents many billions of dollars each year. According to the National Retail Federation, $55 billion was spent on “back to school” shopping last year. That’s a lot of trips to Gap and Old Navy!

So, how does the price tag go from hundreds to billions?

The other big expense: technology.

Digital Backpacks
Clothing isn’t the only cost associated with school. With every passing year, classrooms move from dry-erase boards to digital technology. This school year is no exception, and nowhere is the trend clearer than in the lives of college students.

For example, CourseSmart, in conjunction with Wakefield Research, recently conducted a study on college students that focused on tech’s influence on education. Their findings revealed an incredible dependence on digital devices in the lives of these older students. Here are some of the results by the number:

  • 98% of college students own a digital device
  • 38% say they can’t go more than 10 minutes without using a digital device
  • 27% say laptop is most important…while only 10% say their textbooks are
  • 3 out of 4 say they couldn’t study without technology
  • 1 out of 4 say they use podcasts as study materials

These stats represent a significant shift in the last 10 years. Heck, a decade ago, podcasts didn’t even exist! And don’t expect the “digital drive” to reverse; half of these students believe tablets such as the iPad will “completely replace” paper textbooks within the next 5 years. And 90% of these students think digital tools help them study better.

But tech isn’t necessarily the hero of homework, either. While 85% of these students said technology saved them an average of two hours per day in study time, they’re also spending an average of 96 minutes each day on Facebook.

(Their report is surmised in this helpful info graphic.)

As you probably know, these digital devices aren’t cheap. The average laptop sells for roughly $800. But just in case you’re still underestimating the lucrative draw that tech has over students, catch this: Toys R Us – a company historically dedicated to entertainment – is now selling Amazon’s Kindle e-reader as of July 31st. They’re going after those educational dollars, too.

So, how do you help your kids hit the books…without going bust?

Surviving School
For sure, schools are strange places these days. I’ve already written about the challenges kids face in classrooms today; students routinely cite school as their greatest stressor in life and bullying is prevalent. And just today – literally as I was writing this article – police in my hometown of Tampa arrested a 17-year old kid in what appears to be a bombing plot that would dwarf Columbine. (I’ve been on this campus countless times as it was the closest high school to my church.)

But surviving school doesn’t have to be difficult. Parents and youth workers can do a few simple things to make sure school is a source of personal growth, not pain.

  1. Help students keep a clear perspective (on everything). It’s easy for kids to let their clothes define them. Like I’ve already pointed out, billions will be spent to help kids look sharp on their first day back. But that’s not all. It’s also easy for students to get distracted by the very technology designed to help them. Do everything you can to remind them that these are merely tools for them to accomplish their task of learning. (This will also go a long way towards preventing your financial ruin with the expenses of returning to school.)
  2. Place value on learning, not grades. HEAR ME CLEARLY: I’m not one of those guys whining that every kid should get an “A” because he/she showed up to class. But an unhealthy and unbalanced approach to “grades!, grades!, grades!” doesn’t help, either. Just ask Georgia governor, Nathan Deal. This summer, the republican politician broke the story of a massive cheating scandal in his state’s capitol of Atlanta. Sadly, this wasn’t a cheating scandal performed by students; it was orchestrated by at least 178 named teachers and principals across various schools. It just might be the largest cheating scandal in US history. Whenever a focus is put on grades instead of learning, students are cheated and stress ensues. Don’t allow that to happen to the students you love.

School doesn’t have to break the bank, or break hearts. We survived it with the help of caring adults, and now it’s our turn to help the kids we love, survive it, too.