Back To School 2009: A Teachable Moment

With many a pundit weighing in on whether or not the recession is nearing an end, this year's back to school selling season may have one of the loudest and most authoritative voices in the conversation. Throughout the economic downturn, moms have been making do without new purchases for the home and for themselves, but spending on the kids is the last place that they've been cutting back -- and it will also be the first area they'll ramp back up when conditions improve.

According to research on moms' recession spending habits conducted by The Parenting Group's MomConnection panel this April, the top five areas where moms have cut back least reinforce the importance they place on preserving the status quo for their children.

Top five areas moms have cut back least:

  • Housing 81%
  • Education 76%
  • Medical expenses 73%
  • Lessons for kids 68%
  • Childcare 62%



So when we asked moms about their plans for back to school shopping, we knew that they'd find creative ways to make sure that they could provide kids with what they need to start the school year successfully. To ensure that they're getting the most value for their back-to-school dollars, moms are employing a variety of cost-cutting tactics to save money. The most popular, in order:

  • 75% plan to use coupons
  • 70% will stock up on school supplies when they're on sale during the summer
  • 48% are switching from brand-name items to store-brand or generic products
  • 43% are using hand-me-downs instead of buying new clothing for kids
  • 42% plan to have their kids re-use last year's backpack

Since the majority of moms reported that their spending levels will remain steady compared to last year, the objective is clear: They want more for their money.

The survey also found a bright spot among moms with children entering pre-K, kindergarten and first grade, who were much less likely to decrease spending on school-year shopping than moms of older children.

Percentage of moms who will decrease spending:

Moms of
kids 3-5
Moms of
kids 6-12
Kids' clothing 20% 23%
Kids' footwear 12% 13%
School supplies 10% 16%
Computers/printers 18% 17%
Backpacks 16% 21%
Personal care for kids 9% 14%
Sports equipment 12% 17%
School lunches 8% 12%
Snacks 9% 13%
After-school activities 10% 14%

Who's in control?

When asked how much influence children have on their buying decisions in certain categories, moms claimed to have most -- or at least share -- control in all but one category: backpacks. 34% of moms let their children select their own backpacks, while all other product choices are primarily decided by moms. The purchase of computer equipment involved the least amount of input from kids, with 74% reporting that spending in the computer category had no influence from children whatsoever.

Making the most of the moment

Much to moms' dismay, the nag factor during back-to-school shopping is inevitable - but many parents are using these situations as a "teachable moment" to help kids better understand the value of money. Just like the trade-offs that moms are making for the families, they're also helping kids learn to prioritize their own purchases.

If they MUST have a new iPod, they'll have to do without the concert tickets, and so on. And the older the child, the more likely mom is to be discussing the effect of the economy on the family with them. MomConnection's April survey, Retooling the American Dream, showed that 23% of moms are discussing the economic situation with their kids; the number rises to 50% for moms of kids over the age of 6.

The bottom line: Careful choices that aid in stretching dollars will prevail, and the brands that offer moms quality, convenience and value will capture the lion's share of her back-to-school budget this year.

2 comments about "Back To School 2009: A Teachable Moment ".
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  1. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC, August 12, 2009 at 1 p.m.

    Since 75% of Moms plan on using coupons, we hope they also take this teaching moment to explain that coupons pass between 10 hands before the retailers see the results.

    What do you think that costs?

    What do you think it costs to PRINT these coupons.

    Let's take this teaching moment and explain to our children that a better way is mobile e-coupons because they don't have to print paper coupons.

    They're electronic on your mobile device.

    With a system like ours that is being launched across the US, currently, we solve everybody's problems.

    The retailers create their own e-coupon and have an exact count at the time of redemption of the coupon.

    The users (all of us) get instant point of purchase savings upon redemption.

    It would be nice if this year was a dramatic turn around in using a smarter, environmentally-safe, coupon: The Mobile e-Coupon!

  2. Tina Wysk from Metroplex Baby & Kids, August 27, 2009 at 9:51 p.m.

    We've noticed the same things in Dallas. Moms took advantage of the state tax-free weekend for back-to-school shopping ad recent polls on don't show much of a slowdown on items deemed "family necessities." Moms seem to be cutting back on their own extras, but not their kids'.

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