Canadian Parents Plan to Drop Nearly $600 on March Break This Year, On Average

Those Using Credit to Finance It Will Average Nearly Three Months to Pay It Off

The author(s)

  • Sean Simpson Vice President, Canada, Public Affairs
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Toronto, ON — For most Canadian parents (79%), spending money on March break activities for their kids will be a reality this year. On average, parents are prepared to spend nearly six hundred dollars ($597), according to a new Ipsos survey for BDO. Moreover, 14% of Canadian parents will spend in excess of $1000 to keep their children entertained. Planned spending decreases in line with children’s age: parents of teenagers 14-17 will spend the most on March break activities ($696), followed closely by those with pre-teens aged 10-13 ($693). Anticipated spending then drops to $601 for parents of kids aged 5-9, and to $468 for those with children under five.

For many, this will mean breaking out the credit cards. Two in ten (20%) parents plan to borrow funds to pay for their March break activities this year, either through credit cards (18%) or a line of credit (3%). What’s more, four in ten (40%) of those who intend to borrow expect it will take them more than a month to pay off the debt — implying extra interest that they will need to pay down. On average, borrowers think they’ll need 2.7 months to pay down their March break debt. Only 13% think they’ll pay it off in less than a month, and nearly one in ten (9%) expect they will need more than six months to pay it down, racking up interest as the months pass by.

March break spending varies significantly by region: the highest average planned spend is in British Columbia ($913), followed by Alberta ($756), Ontario ($594), the Atlantic provinces ($552), Quebec ($423), and Saskatchewan and Manitoba ($384). Household income is, unsurprisingly, also a factor that shapes the planned spend: parents with a household income of $100K or more expect to spend $890 on average during March break, while parents who earn less plan on spending about half of this amount. What’s interesting is how those with a significantly lower income of under $40K per year plan on spending nearly as much, on average, as those with larger household incomes:

  • Those earning $60K to under $100K: $487
  • Those earning $40K to under $60K: $489
  • Those earning under $40K: $429

Despite a majority of parents (69%) planning some sort of activity over March break, as many as six in ten (61%) haven’t set a budget for their spending, while 39% have. Those who have a budget tend to have very different approaches to March break spending, compared to those who don’t: one in three (33%) parents with a March break budget say they’ll pay for their activities through their savings, compared to just one in ten (10%) of those who haven’t budgeted.

The most popular means of paying for March break activities this year is using cash or debit for all purchases (72%), followed by borrowing funds using credit cards (18%), and tapping into a vacation fund or specific pre-existing March break savings (17%). Fewer parents turn to borrowing funds using a line of credit (3%), taking money out of a TFSA or non-vacation-specific savings (3%), or some other means of funding (3%).

March Break Spending Habits

Reining in the spending is something that appeals to many, with more than half (54%) of parents agreeing (17% strongly / 36% somewhat) they plan to spend less this year during March break. At the same time, half (49%) agree they’ll spend what it takes to keep their kids occupied and entertained (11% strongly / 39% somewhat). One in three (33%) agree (7% strongly / 25% somewhat) they usually spend more during March break than they want to, and nearly as many (30%) agree (7% strongly / 23% somewhat) they always feel obligated to spend money during March break.

For some, this means ending up in the red: two in ten (20%) agree (6% strongly / 14% somewhat) they’ve gone into debt in the past as a result of March break activities. While most parents (85%) disagree (60% strongly / 25% somewhat) with the idea of March break usually being more expensive than Christmas for their family, this still leaves more than one in ten (15%) who agree (5% strongly / 10% somewhat) that March break is, in fact, more expensive than the December holiday season.

Parents of teenagers – who expect to spend the most this March break – are most likely to have gone into debt in the past as a result of March break: one in four (26%) of those with kids aged 14-17 have racked up March break debts, as have 23% of those with kids 10-13. Those with younger kids are less likely to have previously gone into debt: 17% of those with kids aged 5-9 and 14% of those with children under five. Parents with the oldest kids are also the most likely to feel March break is more expensive than Christmas: two in ten (20%) of those with kids 13-17 agree, compared to those with younger kids aged 10-13 (16%), 5-9 (13%), or under five (12%).

What’s Driving Spending Decisions?

A majority of parents say their March break spending decisions are family decisions (61%), and nearly half (46%) take what the kids want into account. Comparatively, only a minority (32%) say their decisions are influenced by how much money they’ve saved, suggesting that financial considerations are secondary. Other factors that influence parents’ March break spending decisions include:

  • What their spouse/partner wants: 28%
  • Family traditions or past vacations: 23%
  • Their inability to afford additional expenses right now: 20%
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram): 8%
  • Advertising: 7%
  • Peer pressure from other kids or parents: 4%

Parents of 5-9 year olds (50%) are more likely to let their children help decide, compared to those with kids aged 13-17 (46%), 10-13 (46%) or younger than five (42%). Conversely, those with very young kids aged less than five are much more likely to be influenced by what their spouse wants (37%) than those with older kids aged 5-0 (24%), 10-13 (26%) or 14-17 (21%). Those with kids under five are also the most likely to say social media plays a role: one in ten (12%) say social media sites influence their March break decisions, compared to those with kids aged 5-9 (7%), 10-13 (6%) or 14-17 (5%).

This March break, though most plan to spend money on activities, many parents are in fact looking to keep their spending to a minimum. One in three (35%) plan to spend their March break with their kids by taking part in free local or social activities, while three in ten (31%) say they don’t do anything special for March break. At the same time, one in four parents surveyed (23%) plan to take their kids on a family vacation, and more than two in ten (22%) plan on going to paid local attractions or events. A further one in ten (11%) say their children will spend the week at day camp or child care, leaving another 6% who will spend March break some other way.


These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between February 21 and February 24, 2017, on behalf of BDO. For this survey, a sample of 1,002 Canadian parents of children aged 17 and under from Ipsos' online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the population of parents according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ±3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian parents been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Sean Simpson
Vice President, Canada
Ipsos Public Affairs
+1 416 324-2002

About Ipsos

Ipsos is an independent market research company controlled and managed by research professionals. Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos has grown into a worldwide research group with a strong presence in all key markets. Ipsos ranks third in the global research industry. With offices in 87 countries, Ipsos delivers insightful expertise across five research specializations: brand, advertising and media, customer loyalty, marketing, public affairs research, and survey management. Ipsos researchers assess market potential and interpret market trends. They develop and build brands. They help clients build long-term relationships with their customers. They test advertising and study audience responses to various media and they measure public opinion around the globe. Ipsos has been listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1999 and generated global revenues of €1,669.5 ($2,218.4 million) in 2014.

The author(s)

  • Sean Simpson Vice President, Canada, Public Affairs