Back-to-school shopping is more expensive than ever

Mother and daughter wearing face masks and looking at school supplies in a store. The daughter is wearing a blue backpack.
  • Back-to-school shopping is getting underway in the US, and families are preparing for a bigger bill.
  • Grade-school families plan to spend $US849 ($AU1,149) on average, up $US59 ($AU80) from last year, according to a survey.
  • Electronics had the biggest spending increase of any category, and half of families plan to buy a laptop.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The back-to-school shopping season is at its peak heading into August, and families across the US are braced for a new spending record.

Collectively, families with children in grade school will shell out more than $US37 ($AU50) billion on school supplies, up from about $US34 ($AU46) billion last year, according to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation.

The spending category covers a wide range items, including basics like pencils and paper, along with apparel and shoes, as well as high-tech electronics, like laptops and tablets.

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Individually, the families in the survey expect to pay an average of $US849 ($AU1,149) on supplies this year – $US59 ($AU80) more than last year. They also expect to pay $US21 ($AU28) more for electronics, with half planning to buy a laptop, and almost a third planning to buy a tablet.

“Consumers are spending more on items like electronics and clothing as they make plans for students to resume activities in person this fall,” said Phil Rist, Executive Vice President at Prosper Insights, which conducted the survey for the NRF.

“Shoppers are putting the largest portion of their budgets toward electronics, new clothes, and accessories,” Rist said.

Economists say parents’ spending will likely be boosted by higher-than-normal savings from the pandemic, as well as the new federal child tax credit that began hitting families checking accounts earlier this month.

Amazon customers worldwide loaded up on back-to-school supplies on Prime Day in June, purchasing more than 1 million laptops, 1 million headphones, 600,000 backpacks, 240,000 notebooks, 220,000 Crayola products, and 40,000 calculators, according to the company’s latest earnings report.

As of earlier in July, three quarters of shoppers said they were waiting for lists of school supplies, while half were waiting on deals from retailers, like Walmart or Target, or sales tax holidays in states like Texas or Florida.

Even so, research from Deloitte indicates the shopping season is pushed forward this year by about a week, due in part to concerns over lingering supply-chain disruptions from the pandemic.

“While we are unlikely to see apocalyptic shortages, the continued pressure on supply chains means that not all retailers will get an optimal amount of supply,” GlobalData Retail analyst Neil Saunders told USA Today.

“What this means is consumers will have less choice, and some may not be able to get exactly what they want, especially towards the end of the back-to-school season,” he said.