At $83.8 Billion A Year For School Supplies, The Definition Is Broader Than Most Assume

Written by Frank Hayes
August 13th, 2012

A recent survey report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) touted how much would be spent on school supplies, sometimes more generically referred to as back-to-school spending. Even with that encompassing umbrella term, the figures seemed to be quite a reach. We noticed this when American Express—citing the NRF data—talked about parents spending $83.8 billion in school supplies this year.

It seems the NRF has a return to classes for K–12 families costing $688.62, with estimates of $95.44 on actual school supplies, $129.20 on shoes, $246.10 on clothes and $217.88 on electronics. Families with college students will average $929.35, but that includes things like dorm furniture and college-branded apparel items. Also food, which was never something I thought of as a back-to-school item. Wouldn’t parents have to buy clothes, shoes and electronics for their K–12 kids even if they weren’t in school? And don’t college students eat pretty much continuously throughout the year? (About every hour, according to my recollection.) That said, food is being sent to school with students and many of these categories have some relevance. It’s a huge number, but retailers might want to rethink what they consider school supplies.


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