Analyzing the Back-to-School Spend

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As children across the U.S. head back to school, it’s instructive to look at the results of an annual survey released this summer by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics, which predicted that families will spend less this year than last year on back to school expenses.

Total spending for K–12 schools and college combined is projected to reach $80.7 billion, down from last year’s projected $82.8 billion, according to an analysis of the survey data by Coresight Research. The decline in the overall number is due largely to a decreased number of households with children in elementary through high school. Those households that do have children in school, however, plan to spend more on average in 2019 than last year.

Families with children in elementary school through high school plan to spend an average $696.70, up from $684.79 last year and topping the previous record of $687.72 set in 2017. With fewer families surveyed saying they have children in grades K–12, total spend is expected to be $26.2 billion, down from last year’s projected $27.5 billion.

Families with college students are expected to spend an average $976.78, also up from last year’s $942.17 and also topping the previous record of $969.88 set in 2017. Again, with fewer survey respondents saying they are attending college, spending is expected to total $54.5 billion, down from last year’s record of an estimated $55.3 billion.

According to the survey, clothing and accessories will top K–12 families’ expenses at an average $239.82, followed by electronics such as computers, calculators and phones ($203.44); shoes ($135.96) and supplies such as notebooks, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes ($117.49). K–12 families plan to do most of their shopping at department stores (53 percent), discount stores (50 percent), online (49 percent), clothing stores (45 percent) and office supply stores (31 percent). Among K–12 shoppers, teens are expected to spend an average $36.71 of their own money, up from $30.88 just 10 years ago, while pre-teens will spend $26.40, up from $11.94 also 10 years ago.

College shoppers plan to spend the most on electronics ($234.69), followed by clothing and accessories ($148.54), dorm and apartment furnishings ($120.19) and food items ($98.72). They plan to do most of their shopping online (45 percent), followed by department stores (39 percent), discount stores (36 percent), college bookstores (32 percent) and office supply stores (29 percent). The survey of 7,660 consumers was conducted July 1-8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

Source: National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics