Back-​to-​School Spending Expected to Reach $30.3B

With more children entering elementary and middle school this fall and after cutting back their spending last year, parents with growing children will hit the stores this summer to replace and replenish what their children might have had to “make-​do” with last school season. According to NRF’s 2012 Back-​to-​School spending survey conducted by BIGinsight, the average person with children in grades K‑12 will spend $688.62 on their children, up from $603.63 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $30.3 billion. 

Combined K‑12 and college spending will reach $83.8 billion, serving as the second biggest consumer spending event for retailers behind the winter holidays.

When it comes to their children, there’s nothing more important to a parent than making sure their children have everything they need, even in a tough economy—and especially when it comes to back-​to-​school shopping,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Backpacks rip, pencils break, and children grow, there’s no way around it, but as they begin tackling their shopping lists, parents will make sure to spend smarter than they ever have before. We fully expect retailers to be aggressive with their promotions both in-​store and online, keeping an eye on inventory levels as families look to spread out their shopping throughout the entire summer.”

Not surprising, parents will spend the most on clothing, accessories and electronics this summer. Realistic about the cost of select items and the necessities needed for the school year, parents estimate they will spend an average of $246.10 on clothes and $217.88 on electronics. Nearly six in 10 (59.6%) will invest in some sort of electronic device, a sharp increase from the 51.9% who planned to do so in 2011.

Additionally, the average person with children in grades K‑12 will spend $129.20 on shoes and $95.44 on school supplies such as notebooks, pencils and backpacks.


After several years of uncertainty it seems the economy is still impacting how Americans shop. From shopping for sales more often to contemplating their children’s athletic and academic activities, this year 84.8% of consumers with school-​aged children say the economy will impact their spending plans in some way. Specifically, more people plan to shop for sales more often (51.1% vs. 50.0% last year) and cut back on their children’s extracurricular activities (11.0% vs. 10.2% last year.)

Savvy shoppers looking to save some money will shop online more often (17.9% vs. 15.3% last year) and comparison shop online (32.1% vs. 29.8% last year.)


If there’s one thing the economy has changed it’s the way people shop.  This year more families say they will shop at department stores and online for school items as they look to get the best bang for their buck. Nearly six in 10 (59.9%) will take advantage of department stores’ private label offerings and exclusive product lines, up from 57.0% last year and the highest in the survey’s 10-​year history.  Parents will also scour the Internet for free-​shipping and other promotions. Nearly four in 10 (39.6%) will take their school shopping lists online, up from 31.7% last year and nearly doubling since 2007 when 21.4% planned to shop online.

Discount stores will be the most popular shopping destination, however, with 67.1% planning to shop there for school items. Clothing stores (52.0%), office supplies stores (42.0%), drug stores (22.7%) and thrift stores (14.4%) will also see their share of back-​to-​school shoppers. Electronic stores, popular with families looking to invest in smartphones, tablets and MP3 players for their children, will see a nice bump in traffic this year (26.3% vs. 21.7% last year.)

The budget-​conscious consumer has not forgotten about price, quality or value, we’re merely seeing a more savvy shopper,” said BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “There’s no questions consumers have become more practical in their shopping, and with school purchases oftentimes considered a necessity, parents have likely been saving and scrimping to be able to fully afford all of their children’s needs for the upcoming school year.”


Hoping to spread out their spending, more people have already or will begin shopping earlier than they did last year. Almost half (47.8%) are planning to begin shopping three weeks to one month before the school bell rings, up from 42.4% last year, and 22.3% have likely already made a dent in their shopping list, saying they would shop at least two months before school starts, up from 21.8% last year. Another quarter (24.0%) of Americans will start shopping one to two weeks before school, and 2.7% will wait until school starts. With some people having less to shop for and hoping to stock up on clearance items, 3.2% will shop after school starts, up from 2.6% last year.


It seems their “allowance freeze” has ended – teenagers and pre-​teens this summer will spend more of their own money on back-​to-​school items. The average 13–17 year old will spend $36.48 on pens, paper, lunch boxes and more, up from $31.64 last year. Their younger siblings (6–12 year olds) will spend on average $25.63 on what they want for school, up from $15.12 last year. Additionally, when it comes to the heavy influence children have on their parents’ back-​to-​school spending, 63.5% of parents say their children have at least 50% of a say in what they buy.

Men are expected to spend an average $739.75 on their children in grades K‑12, compared to women who will spend an average of $640.42. The difference isn’t only in the amount. Mom, much more likely to be the keeper of the family budget, will shop more at discount stores (71.2% vs. 62.7% of men), while men are more likely to shop at department stores (64.8% vs. 55.3% of women) and electronics stores (33.1% vs. 19.9% of women).

[Source:  "2012 Back-​to-​School spending survey."  BIGinsight/​The National Retail Federation (NRF).  19 July 2012.  Web.  19 July 2012.]