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Parents, Brace Yourselves: This Is How Much You'll Spend on Back-to-School Shopping

Jul 16, 2015

The start of the school year is still more than a month away, but subtraction is already on the lesson plan. Parents this year say they will be spending less on back-to-school clothes, electronics supplies, and other items for their kids, according to a new survey released by the National Retail Federation.

That's in spite of the fact that a smaller number of parents say the way they shop is influenced by the economy -- about three-quarters of parents surveyed, down from more than four out of five last year and the lowest in the seven years the NRF has been asking that question.

Among that 76%, fewer say they'll be tracking down sales more often or buying store-brand items this year. They're also confident enough that they're starting their shopping later this year, rather than getting an early jump on bargain-hunting or spending slowly to minimize the budgetary hit. The number of families who say they'll wait until just a week or two until school starts went up from 25% to 30% in only a year.

The lower total may simply be due to yearly fluctuations, says NRF president Matthew Shay, as some big-ticket items need less frequent purchases: "It's unlikely most families would need to restock and replenish apparel, electronics and supplies every year."

Collectively, American parents with kids in kindergarten through 12th grade will shell out $24.9 billion -- a drop of about 6% from last year. On average, a family with school-aged kids expects it will spend $630.36 this year, the lowest it's been since 2011 and down from $669.28 last year.

It's not just backpacks and binders. The biggest chunk of families' overall back-to-school budget goes to clothes, which around 93% of families buy. Across all shoppers, clothing and electronics account for more than $400 of the average family's back-to-school outlay.

And while not all parents are buying electronics, the 57% who do so spend more on that than on clothes -- an average of an average of just about $346 per family. For parents who grew up in an era where a graphing calculator was the most costly gadget a kid could need, this is a big adjustment.

And parents, if you think your kids are going to defray some of the costs by kicking in the contents of their piggy bank of summer job, guess again: Only about four out of 10 teenagers will help pay for their back-to-school expenses, and those who do will only contribute around $82 to the total.

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