Families are spending a record $47 billion on back-to-college shopping

The older your kid gets, the more money you’ll be spending on school — and that’s not just tuition.

Across the country, both students and parents are paying thousands of dollars on computers, school supplies, and clothing. Consulting firm Deloitte says kindergarten through college will cost consumers nearly $73 billion, with college being most of that. The breakdown is $27 billion for grade school and $46 billion for college.

While computers and gadgets will be a big-ticket item for college students this year, online shopping won’t be the main spending avenue. Almost half of parents will head to a physical store to buy school supplies, while 1-in-4 will shop online. When it comes to students who are buying their own supplies, more than one-third will buy online.

College students and their families will spend an average of $648 — the highest expense that isn’t tuition or room and board. The average family will spend $1,347 on back-to-college expenses — about the same from last year — and spending starts as early as the end of July.

Cash-conscious college students

Most parents buy what their college-aged students want, but not always everything they want. That means students are left with some expenses of their own, and most of them aren’t surprised by it. Deloitte says 76 percent of college students consider themselves to be budget-conscious, and that shows with how they shop.

“Eighty-one percent plan to buy from retailers who offer free shipping,” the survey says. “Seventy-six percent plan to buy more used textbooks, 82 percent plan to earmark their budgets for socializing with friends, and more than 50 percent for cultural and sporting events.”

And maybe contributions are in the eye of the beholder. More than half of students expect to contribute the most money when it comes to back-to-college spending, while only 21 percent of parents expect their kids to actually do so.

Summer break cut short

Most kids around the country head back to school sometime between mid-August and early September, but back-to-school shopping starts earlier every year. Two-thirds of parents are shopping throughout the summer for school-related products, and those that shop earlier end up spending more money. Most parents — 60 percent — will start shopping before August, with 11 percent shopping before July! Parents who shop earlier than July spend $100 more than those parents who shop in July. People in many states start shopping earlier to take advantage of sales tax holidays.

Early shoppers and undecided shoppers — those who aren’t sure if they’ll go online or in-store — are the biggest targets of retailers. The earlier you shop, the more you are likely to spend. And the more unsure you are about where you will shop and what you will buy, the more you will blow your budget.

“This segment is worth about $5.4 billion (about $549 on average per shopper) and presents an opportunity for retailers to present intriguing offers and communications,” Deloitte says. “Retailers who understand the undecided population’s preferences may gain share of wallet during back-to-school season.”

When it comes to convenience verses cost, shoppers vary. One-third of parents plan to buy pre-configured school supply kits, where packages with all the supplies are made up so parents don’t have to pick out every single item. This may save parents time shopping around for supplies, but it doesn’t save them money. Parents who buy pre-configured supply kits spend an average of 40 percent more than parents who bought supplies separately.

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Meet the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn


Zinn is a freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Budgeting & Saving, Credit & Debt, Family

back to school, budgeting, college savings, parents, save money, shop online

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Article last modified on July 25, 2017 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Back-to-School Shopping: $73 Billion - AMP.