Back-to-school budgets seen as mostly flat compared with 2010

Shelly McKinley was buying jeans and T-shirts at Target on Monday for her 7-year-old, one of four children on her back-to-school shopping list.

She started school shopping at the beginning of August, letting her kids spend their birthday money on clothes and shoes. That’s how she keeps the budget down. And she gets help from her family.

McKinley said she’ll probably spend a little more on back-to-school shopping this year than last, though it won’t be close to the $603.63 average reported by the National Retail Federation. That’s down 0.5 percent from $606.40 last year.

The average K-12 back-to-school budget includes $220.60 for clothing and accessories; $104.53 for shoes; $88.99 for school supplies; and $189.51 for electronics or computer equipment.

Total spending on school shopping is expected to reach $22.8 billion, compared with $21.4 billion a year ago. The number of survey respondents with children in the household between the ages of 6 and 17 grew to 26.8 percent this year from 25.2 percent in 2010.

Although national economists say the worst of the recession is over, a shadow of insecurity remains when it comes to consumers budgeting back-to-school expenses.

"I’ll probably spend less," said April Daugherty, who was buying crayons, scissors and folders for her 6-year-old daughter in Las Vegas well before the Aug. 29 start of classes. "Some of the supplies she already has."

Daugherty estimated she’ll spend $350 on school uniforms, shoes and supplies.

Americans are compensating for the down economy by purchasing store-brand or generic items (39.9 percent), comparison shopping online (29.8 percent), and shopping for sales (50 percent), the National Retail Federation found in its 2011 back-to-school survey.

Parents are spending slightly less on clothing and school supplies, having replenished many of those items last year.

Though average spending on computers, cellphones, MP3 players and tablet devices is expected to increase slightly to $189.51, just more than half (51.9 percent) of families with school-age children plan to buy electronics this year, compared with last year’s historical high of 53.7 percent.

The percentage of people who plan to purchase apparel, shoes and supplies will also decrease, demonstrating that families are making conscious decisions to buy only necessities.

"Families aren’t opposed to spending on what they need, but parents want their children to take a good look around at what they already have before deciding what to buy for back-to-school this year," National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said.

Back-to-school shopping gets more expensive for parents of college students. They’ll spend at average of $808.71 on everything from clothing and electronics to dorm furnishings and food, down from $835.73 last year, according to the back-to-school survey conducted July 7-11 by BIGresearch.

The survey found that 45.8 percent of college students and their parents will buy electronics, the lowest level since 2005. However, electronics will still take up the largest portion of shoppers’ budgets at $209.93, an 11 percent decrease from a year ago.

Most college students already own a smartphone, MP3 player, laptop or latest tablet device, said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director at BIGresearch. The decline in electronics spending could also come from a huge price drop in popular items such as laptops over the last several years, she said.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at or 702-383-0491.


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