Back-to-school, college spending expected to hit $83.6 billion



For many students, heading back to school after a long summer break ranks right up there with getting a root canal.

But they’re not the only ones feeling the pain. Newly released figures from the National Retail Federation’s annual back-to-school survey show that families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $687.72 on supplies and clothing.

Collectively, that amounts to $29.5 billion, an 8 percent increase from last year’s nationwide spending total of $27.3 billion. Total spending for back-to-school and back-to-college combined is projected to reach $83.6 billion, up more than 10 percent from last year’s $75.8 billion.

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay chalks this up to people feeling better about the economy.

“With stronger employment levels and a continued increase in wages, consumers are spending more and we are optimistic that they will continue to do so throughout the rest of the year,” Shay said in a statement. “As students head back to the classroom, retailers are prepared to meet their needs whether it’s for pencils and paper, shirts and pants or laptops and tablets.”

Breaking these numbers down, back-to-school shoppers plan to spend $10.2 billion on clothing, $8.8 billion on electronics such as computers or calculators, $5.6 billion on shoes and $4.9 billion on school supplies, which includes things like notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunch boxes.

Broken down further, parents say they will spend an average of $238.89 on clothing, $204.33 on electronics, $130.38 on shoes and $114.12 on school supplies.

I’m trying to think of the last time I spent $238.89 on clothing. Let’s see, that would have been … never!

Now admittedly, I’m not a clothes junkie. I simply want clothes that fit and will last for a while. And I understand that $238.89 will likely cover most of the clothes a child will wear throughout the school year. But this does point out the fact that having kids in school isn’t exactly cheap.

I can identify with the $114.12 that is spent on school supplies.

I have two grown daughters and I can well remember scrambling around — seemingly always at the last minute — to help them find everything they needed. And it seemed like there was always one item on that list we could never find.

I’m firmly convinced that schools do this on purpose.

I think they enjoy the idea of parents groping through a picked-over aisle of school supplies at Walmart in search of something that not only isn’t there, but never will be there.

I can just picture the conversation at a staff meeting:

“Hey Reg, so what was that weird kind of marker you put on your supply list last year that none of the parents could find?” a teacher asks.

“Oh, that was a Koh-I-Noor Radiograph pen,” Reg answers brightly. “That was used by designers and illustrators before the development of computer graphics. I really got a kick out of that because I knew the stores wouldn’t have it in stock!”

“I’m putting that on MY list now!” the other teacher answers.

At that point, they both jump out their chairs and do an impromptu high-five.

The NRF survey also shows that more families were poised to tackle their back-to-school lists early this year, with 27 percent beginning two months before the beginning of school, up from 22 percent last year. But 21 percent will still wait until the last week or two before school starts, about the same as last year’s 22 percent.

My advice? Start early, and get your order in fast for that Koh-I-Noor Radiograph pen.


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