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Back-to-School Spending Sticker Shock: How Families Can Survive the Priciest Supplies Yet

Back-to-school spending is projected to reach a record $41.5 billion for K-12 families this year, according to the National Retail Federation, up 13% from 2022. The average household is expected to spend over $890 preparing their children for school, topping last year's high of $864.

Student listening to headphones, carry books in one arm, with backpack Back-to-school spending on supplies

"Back-to-class shopping is one of the most important consumer shopping occasions of the year," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a recent press release. "Our research for 2023 shows American consumers are eager to jumpstart their back-to-school and college purchases early."


College students and their families also face new peaks in education costs, with spending potentially surging to $94 billion. That's around $20 billion more than 2022 levels.


Big Back-to-School Spending Increases in Key Categories

Back-to-school spending, collage of school supplies

Much of the boost comes from technology, as online learning surged during the pandemic. Approximately 69% of K-12 shoppers say they'll buy electronics, up from just 54% in 2019, according to the NRF's annual survey.


Laptops, tablets, smartphones, headphones, and speakers are on the topmost school shopping lists. Total electronics spending could reach $15.2 billion, far above pre-pandemic seasons.


Besides tech, clothing, backpacks, dorm furnishings, and supplies are growing as in-person activities resume.


What's Driving the Boost in Spending?

Young student with backpack carrying fresh school supplies on the first day of school

Inflation contributes to rising prices but is not the primary spending factor. Less than a third cited inflation per the NRF survey. Over 40% say they need more new items, like replacing older electronics.


"This increase in expected spending is primarily driven by more demand for electronics, as 69% of back-to-school shoppers expect to buy electronics or other computer-related accessories this year, up from 65% last year and the highest in the survey’s history," said NRF's Catherine Cullen.


Shoppers Hunt Deals and Value Amid High Prices

backpack of school supplies

To save, shoppers turn to discounts, buy more store brands, research deals online, and use rewards programs. Waiting for sales, buying used, and reusing the previous year's supplies also helps.


Tax-free weekends provide savings in many states. For example, Illinois' tax holiday runs from August 5-14 this year on clothes, backpacks, supplies, and some tech.


Support Local Families in Need

Young student reading a book, green sweater, carrying backpack, background stacks of book and full bookshelves. Support Local Families In need for back to school

While every family feels the strain of back-to-school costs, low-income households face impossible tradeoffs. Stocking supplies can mean cutting essentials like food or utilities.


Readers who can should support local back-to-school supply drives in Peoria, IL, such as Backpack Peoria's giveaway event hosted by Dream Center Peoria (DCP), where they provide over 2,000 backpacks and supplies. And The One Peoria event at Glen Oak School in Peoria, IL, also offers free physicals and bags for the first two hundred students.


Donating extra items or funds makes a real difference for kids in need this season.


This year will likely shatter spending records, but community support can ensure students have the tools to succeed. As your family shops appreciate the challenges so many households now face.

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