Inflation fuels debt for parents this back-to-school season 

  • 37% of responding parents are unable to afford back-to-school shopping for their kids due to rising inflation
  • 42% of responding parents plan to take on debt to afford back-to-school shopping for their kids
  • More than two-thirds (37%) of responding parents are unable to afford childcare due to its rising costs, with nearly 30% deciding to leave their jobs to care for their children

It’s back-to-school season, which means many parents are having to loosen their purse strings to pay for another round of school supplies ahead of the upcoming school year. However, this year, some parents may be feeling the financial pinch more than others. According to a recent study conducted by Qualtrics on behalf of Credit Karma, among the 55% of parents whose children are of school age, 37% say they’re unable to afford back to school shopping due to rising inflation. This was especially true for women, 43% of which said they’re now unable to afford back-to-school shopping, compared to 31% of men. 

Back-to-school may mean back-to-debt for some parents 

Inflation could fuel a cycle of debt for parents taking part in back-to-school shopping this season. According to the study, 42% of parents with kids in school say they plan to take on debt, such as credit card debt or buy now, pay later loans, to pay for school shopping. Beyond supplies, another 41% of parents say they plan to take on debt to cover after school programs, sports or clubs for their children. This was especially true among urban families, just over half of which expect to go into debt to pay for such activities for their children this year.  

When it comes to debt, just over half of parents who say they plan to take on debt to pay for back-to-school shopping expect to take on more than $300 in debt, with another one-in-five taking on more than $500 in debt to pay for things like clothing and other school supplies.

Career or childcare? Something’s got to give

It’s not just rising costs of living that’s setting parents’ finances back, it’s childcare too. According to the study, more than one-third (37%) of parents say they are no longer able to afford childcare. Of parents who have kids in school, 30% spend more than $1,000 (per child) on childcare each month, while 29% spend less than $500 per month. Childcare costs have gotten so expensive that many parents are having to sacrifice their careers to care for their children. In fact, nearly 30% of parents have left or will leave their jobs to care for their children. This is especially true for women who were more likely to report they’d decided to leave their job (34%), compared to a quarter of men. 

Parents sacrifice saving, vacation and city life for kids’ education

Nearly half of parents with kids in school pay for their children’s education, including private school, tutoring or higher education. Among those, more than half (53%) say they are willing to sacrifice their savings for their childrens’ education. Beyond sacrificing their careers and dipping into their savings, parents say they’re willing to sacrifice living in the city (34%), going on vacations (33%) and living in an ideal neighborhood (29%) to pay for their children’s education. 

“Parents spend hundreds of dollars every year to secure the school supplies needed for their children’s education. This is an anticipated expense that many parents budget for, however, costs are likely to look a little different this year as the price of most goods is higher than we’ve seen in over 40 years,” said Colleen McCreary, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma. “Knowing that inflation will play a major role in back-to-school shopping, parents may need to get crafty when it comes to sourcing supplies this year, both financially and with materials they already have. If possible, it’s best to avoid taking on high interest debt to pay for back-to-school expenses, especially if you can’t afford to pay it back right away.”


This survey was conducted online within the United States by Qualtrics on behalf of Credit Karma from July 7 to July 9, 2022 among 1,045 U.S. adults above the age of 18. The goal of this survey was to understand the financial impact of having a child and the costs associated with childcare, financial and otherwise.