Common Cents: Survey details back-to-school spending


The National Retail Federation (NRF) and Proper Insights and Analytics recently released a survey detailing back-to-school spending for the 2019 school year. The survey looks at how American families planned to shop for clothing, supplies and other items for the school year.

The upshot: As students start back to school and college, families are spending more than ever on school supplies.

“Consumers are in a strong position given the nation’s growing economy,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay, “and we see this reflected in what they say they will spend on back-to-class items this year.”

According to the NRF, families with children in elementary school through high school planned to spend an average of $696.70, up from $684.79 last year and topping the previous record of $688.62 set in 2012. Families with college students are expected to spend even more — an average of $976.78, which is up from $942.17 last year and exceeds the previous record of $969.88 set in 2017.

The survey also revealed that total combined spending for K-12 and college is projected to reach $80.7 billion. This figure is down from last year’s $82.8 billion, but is attributed to the decreased number of households surveyed with children in K-12 or attending college.

Clothing and accessories are expected to top K-12 families’ expenses at an average of $239.82, followed by electronics such as computers, calculators and phones ($203.44), shoes ($135.96) and supplies such as notebooks, pencils, backpacks and lunch boxes ($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).

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).

College spenders 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 shows that among K-12 shoppers, teens are expected to spend an average of $36.71 of their own money, up from $30.88 ten years ago. Preteens will spend $26.40, up from $11.94 ten years ago.

According to Shay, “Members of Generation Z are clearly becoming more involved with back-to-school purchasing decisions rather than leaving the choices up to mom and dad.”

If you would like more information about school financing or college savings, contact Vince Sturm at his Perry office at 515-465-9843 or at

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