Back-to-school spending expected to reach $75 billion

08/03/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 2:40 PM

Crayons. Colored pencils. Glue sticks. Binders. Notebook paper.

Yes, it’s already that time of year.

Consumers are expected to spend a total of $75 billion to get students ready for school, according to the National Retail Federation.

The NRF estimates that elementary student average spending will be about $580, while middle school students and high school students will average about $682.

Aaron and Cassandra Bushell are starting their back-to-school preparations for the first time as their oldest, Jackson, begins preschool this fall at Magdalen Catholic School. They also have a 2-year-old and a 2-month-old.

The family recently went to Target – “It wasn’t crazy but it was busy for sure” – to get Play-Doh, glue, crayons, Kleenex, baby wipes and a coveted Spiderman backpack. Overall they spent about $50.

“I was carrying my phone with me at all times, looking up and comparing stuff to Amazon,” Aaron Bushell said.

He’s part of a growing trend of shoppers who research items on their smartphones – an estimated 37 percent, the highest since the NRF started asking in 2011.

Brick-and-mortar stores and traditional retailers are promoting more items and for longer periods of time to keep their customers. This year, retail giant Wal-Mart is reducing prices on 10 percent more of its back to school inventory than last year, said Molly Blakeman, Wal-Mart spokeswoman.

Some of the top-selling school items at the store’s 4,264 locations nationwide include one-inch binders, 24-count Crayons and colored pencils, Blakeman said.

To get an idea of the volume of school supplies Wal-Mart sells, the company anticipates it will sell enough boxes of colored pencils from July 12 to Sept. 19 for each student attending pre-kindergarten through eighth grade in the U.S. to have 2.5 boxes.

Back to school items with themes such as Disney’s “Frozen” or “Captain America” are also “going to be huge this year,” she said.

Eric Ortiz, 32, says he is “drowning in school supplies” since he and his wife bought them for their three daughters who will be in fourth, fifth and seventh grade in Wichita.

The family spent about $100 on school supplies at Wal-Mart for the three girls, Ortiz said.

“We try to stay on the cheap side. It seems to be getting worse every year. They need a more expensive type of calculator, and the lists are brand specific. Schools want Crayola markers, but they don’t want the ones that are 50 cents cheaper,” Ortiz said.

“I don’t remember my parents having to get that much stuff for me for school every year. Maybe a backpack and pencils. Now it’s cleaning supplies and pencil pouches and a certain type of binder.

About 34 percent of shoppers plan to buy more generic brands because of the economy, according to the NRF.

But for some shoppers, like Cat Poland, generics aren’t good enough for certain things. Like crayons.

“The RoseArt crayons just won’t do. ...” said Poland, whose oldest daughter, Anna, is going to be a kindergartner at Kyle Trueblood Elementary in Conway Springs.

Poland said she decided to do some of her back-to-school shopping online this year. She was able to get a coupon for $30 off a $60 purchase from Staples.

The NRF says that four in 10 people will do back-to-school shopping online at least once this year.

Poland says she and her daughter will have a “mother-and-daughter day” soon when they go shopping for clothes.

“I definitely want to have that back-to-school shopping experience with her,” Poland said.

“People don’t understand why some people get so worked up about back-to-school shopping. But people are sending their kids back into a school system. There is a lot of emotion,” Poland said. “It seems like a simple thing, but it’s all the worries and concerns of a parent for their kid going to school. It’s more than just pencils and crayons and glue – it represents that next stage in your child’s life, and sometimes emotions get wrapped up in what should be a simple purchase.”

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