After Splurging Last Year, Families Trim Back-to-School Spending Budgets for 2015
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August 05, 2015

After spending more on school supplies and electronics in 2014, parents this year will head into the back-to-school season evaluating what their children really need before spending on new items.

According to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) Back-to-School Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, the average family with children in grades K-12 plans to spend $630.36 on electronics, apparel and other school needs, down from $669.28 last year. Total K-12 back-to-school spending is expected to reach $24.9 billion.

Families with children in college and college students will spend an average of $899.18 on back-to-school supplies, down slightly from the $916.48 seen last year. Total spending for college students is expected to reach $43.1 billion.

The survey also found that, on average, families have spent 42 percent more on school items over the past 10 years. According to NRF, this further emphasizes the continued growth in the back-to-school arena.

Overall, back-to-school spending this year, including both K-12 and college students, is expected to reach $68 billion.

NRF says that the 2015 survey results point to a more confident consumer when it comes to spending and the impact of the economy. The survey found 76.4 percent of families with school-age children say they will change their spending because of the economy, the lowest percentage in the seven years that NRF has been tracking the metric, and down from 81.1 percent last year.

"As seen over the last 13 years, spending on 'back to school' has consistently fluctuated based on children's needs each year, and it's unlikely most families would need to restock and replenish apparel, electronics and supplies every year," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "Parents this summer will inventory their children's school supplies and decide what is needed and what can be reused, which just makes good budgeting sense for families with growing children."

Shay is also optimistic about the consumer mood going forward. "Heading into the second half of the year, we are optimistic that economic growth and consumer spending will improve after a shaky first half of the year," he said.

NRF points to solid growth in job creation and consumer confidence as key contributors to the economic recovery, factors it says could also be positively impacting how families shop for school items this year.

The NRF survey found 40.6 percent of those who say the economy is impacting their spending plans will look for sales more often, down from the 46.2 percent last year and the lowest since NRF began tracking this in 2009. Additionally, 29.8 percent will buy more generic or store brand products, down from 34 percent last year and another survey low.

For those who have to restock what their K-12 children need for school, the survey found that 92.7 percent will purchase new apparel, spending an average of $217.82, though most (94.1 percent) will head out for new school supplies, spending an average of $97.74. Families will also spend $117.56 on new shoes.

In 2014, 58.3 percent of parents said they would buy electronics for their K-12 school-age children, and planned to spend an average of $212.35 — one of the highest amounts seen in the survey's history. This year, however, that number dropped to $197.24.

For college students, the survey found that the average person shopping for electronics will spend $207.27, down from $243.79 last year. Families with college students and students themselves will spend $136.95 on apparel, $117.98 on food items to stock their dorms and apartments, $66.70 on school supplies, $72.79 on shoes and $78.02 on personal care items.

"As we see with back-to-school spending, there are also seasonal shifts in the college arena as well, and it's important to remember that spending on school and college is not indicative of future spending trends, especially the holiday season," said Shay. "That said, we're still seeing a very confident college shopper. We fully expect families to take advantage of retailers' unique promotions on home furnishing items, apparel and even electronics, while still reusing what they can in good frugal fashion."

On an interesting note—NRF says that trendy Millennials have changed how they view the décor needs for their traditionally less-than-appealing dorm rooms, and this year spending on matching bed sets, curtains, bath linens and other home goods will top any previous year. According to the survey, half (51.3 percent) of college shoppers will purchase dorm or apartment furnishings and will spend an average $126.30, up 30 percent from $96.70 last year and the most since NRF began tracking the metric in 2007.

About the survey

NRF's 2015 Back-to-School and Back-to-College spending Surveys were designed to gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to back-to-school spending and back-to-college spending. The surveys were conducted for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics. The poll of 6,500 consumers was conducted June 30-July 8, 2015.The consumer polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.