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Back to School: Spending expected to hit record highs

FILE - Back-to-school supplies await shoppers at a store on Saturday, July 11, 2020, in Marlborough, Mass. The pandemic has dragged into the new school year and wreaked havoc on reopening plans. That has extended to the back-to-school shopping season, the second most important period for retailers behind the holidays. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Families are expecting to spend more on supplies and clothes this school year, according to the National Retail Federation

The National Retail Federation says American families are planning to spend on average about $850 per student, an increase of $60 from last year. That’s a new record. Total spending is expected around $37 billion, another new record. 

Why the increase? 

There are two distinct reasons for the spike in spending, according to National Retail Federation Senior Director of Industry and Consumer Insights, Katherine Cullen. 

“About 2/3 of K-12 and college shoppers are expecting that classes will take place, at least mostly, in person in the fall,” says Cullen. “That is fueling different purchases and more purchasing than last year.”

Cullen gives the example of students not needing uniforms, lunch boxes, or a new wardrobe for distance learning through the pandemic.

The other reason, a big increase of shoppers buying electronics for their students. This includes laptops, tablets, and cellphones. Cullen says that’s a bit of a surprise. 

“We may have expected initially that this number would come in a little lower given that so many families stocked up on electronics for virtual learning last year,” Cullen says.

Expect shortages in school supplies

Complicating matters further, inflation and a global supply chain disrupted by the pandemic. This could make it harder to find the specific item you want to buy your student. If you can find it, you’ll likely pay more for it than in previous years. 

“We do know that retailers have been facing a lot of rising costs as a result of these supply chain issues, and it may at one point have to be passed on to consumers,” Cullen explains. 


Cullen says many retailers have what they need in stock right now, but inventory could tighten as we get closer to the first day of school. She recommends families do their shopping sooner than later and not put it off until the last minute.