Spending for school supplies expected to break record

School officially starts in Humboldt County Aug. 26, and for parents like Josie Campbell there’s nothing like waiting until the last minute to shop for school supplies.

“It isn’t going to matter one bit how long I wait to buy supplies,” Campbell says, “I’m going to spend more on them.” Her two children, Travis and Kylie, will join 56.6 million other students in classrooms across the country, lugging backpacks full of the requisite supplies. 

According to the National Retail Federation 2019 survey, families with children in elementary school through high school plan to spend an average $696.70.

That’s up from $684.79 last year and tops the previous record of $688.62 set in 2012. 

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

For retailers, the start of the school year is the second biggest sales event of the year, after Christmas.  

Total spending for K-12 schools and college combined is projected to reach $80.7 billion. Spending for supplies includes not only the usual pencils and backpacks, but now includes electronics, clothing, and dorm room luxuries like refrigerators.

Costs are higher with college students, who often need technology and appliances like a new phone, computer or mini fridge.

The National Retail Foundation survey found families with college students are expected to spend an average $976.78, which is up from last year’s $942.17.

College shoppers plan to spend the most on electronics at $234.69; followed by clothing and accessories, $148.54, dorm and apartment furnishings at $120.19. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents with college students plan to rent books in order to save money. 

All back-to-school shoppers plan to find their items in brick-and-mortar stores rather than online, according to the online company's poll. Sixty-three percent plan to visit physical department and office supply stores versus 37% shopping online.

But like Campbell, a majority of back-to-school buyers are waiting to take advantage of sales. She says she has a budget and will combine online and local retail shopping to get the best deals. “We’ll be shopping the night before to get everything we need.”