09/21/2012 05:30 pm ET Updated Nov 21, 2012

College-Bound Excess: Competitive Parenting or Retail Therapy?

September has always been the month for back-to-school sales and spending. And whether it's back to preschool or college, it seems that every year, the options become cooler, cuter and more extreme. It's not surprising that parents are shelling out plenty of cash for even the non-essentials. From locker wallpaper (with so many shades of pink you feel like you've been dropped into a Legally Blonde movie) to dorm room wallpaper (REALLY? What happened to the old dorm guidelines that stipulated "no nails" and made students use putty to hold up their Farrah Fawcett posters?), there isn't a space left undecorated.

According to USA Today, some parents now enthusiastically hire interior designers to create dorm rooms that make their children feel at home. Wait -- I thought they didn't want to feel at home, that's why they go off to college. There goes that theory. While some might roll their eyes at those who seem extreme, it shouldn't surprise us that designer dorm rooms have popped up on campus or that parents are snapping up non-essentials for their students. Is it a good idea? That's a whole other story, but here are a few reasons why parents might break the bank....

The Marketing is So Darn Good: The amazing colors make parents want shower caddies for themselves. The scaled-down versions of grown up things are so adorable, it's like playing house. Watch the commercials and stroll through the aisles, and it's easy to believe that if you buy it, college life will be easier, happier and a lot more organized for your child.

Competitive Parenting: There will always be those who have to illustrate privilege and show the Joneses that they've not only kept up with them, but passed them out on the way to higher education. However, before you jump to conclusions, read on.

Separation Anxiety: Launching your teen into the real world (or pretty close to it) can be emotionally challenging. For many families, back-to-school shopping is a ritual and the college launch is a milestone. Retail therapy might just be a parental response to dealing with this separation.

A Moment of Weakness: Most parents have been there, caving into the requests for candy bars or expensive sneakers because you just couldn't take the whining anymore. This can happen with college kids, only this time it happens at Bed Bath & Beyond.

What's your college impulse buy?

We're talking more about this on The College-Bound Chronicles, the new podcast for parents.