It’s School Supply Time


The National Retail Federation (NRF) is the world’s largest retail trade association. NRF’s 2019 survey of back-to-school shopping was released on July 15th and includes some eye-opening figures. A billion dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to, but NRF forecasts total spending on school supplies at $80.7 billion. That’s enough to put a serious dent in mom’s handbag or dad’s money clip.

NRF knows a thing or two about the retail sector. Their 30-second elevator pitch says retail is the nation’s largest private sector employer, which contributes $2.6 trillion to the annual gross domestic product and supports one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. All big numbers. Just remember to keep the M’s, B’s, and T’s straight (millions, billions, and trillions).

NRF breaks its back-to-school shopping into two segments – K-12 and college-bound. Families with kiddos in elementary school through high school will spend a forecasted $696.70 on school supplies. Let’s round it up to $700 to include the bottle of ibuprofen or antacids. Total K-12 spending is estimated at $26.2 billion and that’s down from 2018’s $27.5 billion because fewer surveyed families say they have children in elementary or high schools.

At $239.82, clothing and accessories are the top expense for K-12 shoppers, followed by electronics ($203.44), shoes ($135.96) and supplies ($117.49). The basics like notebooks, pencils, and backpacks, etc., are included in the supplies category. This means some K-12 families are in for a little over $100 if clothing, shoes, and electronics are carryover items from the previous school year. Oh what a dreamer!

Families with college students will likely spend an average of $976.78, a bit higher than 2018’s spending of $942.17, and higher than the previous record spending of $969.88 in 2017. Total spending for college supplies in 2019 is estimated at $54.5 billion and that’s down from 2018’s record $55.3 billion. The theme of fewer young adults in college continues with the surveyed families.

College-bound shopping includes $234.69 for electronics, $148.54 for clothing and accessories, $120.19 for dorm or apartment furnishings, and $98.72 for food. A couple of observations – what’s wrong with last year’s wall posters for the furnishings, and, students should plan on slipping an apple from the campus dining services into a backpack if they need food for their dorm room. Repeat: Oh what a dreamer!

There is a silver lining in mom’s handbag or dad’s money clip. NRF says teens expect to spend an average $36.71 of their money on back-to-school shopping and pre-teens will part with $26.40. This means the younger generation is involved in making buying decisions instead of leaving it up to moms, dads or grandparents.

NRF’s survey from mid-July indicated almost 90 percent of K-12 and college-bound shoppers still had half or more of their purchases left to complete. Forty-nine percent were waiting for the best deals. This may be akin to the lonely shopper in a mall on Christmas Eve as the stores are going dark. Don’t wait too long, consumers.

Whether this year’s shopping is done online or at a big box retailer, keep some of the shopping local, including on main street. Back-to-school spending is huge, almost like another holiday but without a tree or the wrapping paper. Handbag, money clip, or credit card . . . let’s get out there.