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Back-to-school spending expected to hit record levels

back to school shopping
Posted at 5:00 AM, Aug 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-25 08:13:24-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Back-to-school shopping used to mean picking out a new pencil pouch and notebooks, but now families are having to budget for electronic items like Chromebooks, too.

A National Retail Federation consumer survey found families planned to spend a record-setting $101.6 billion on back-to-school and college shopping. Last year spending reached $80.7 billion.

Parents with kids in elementary through high school budgeted an average of $789.49 per family, compared with $696.70 last year.

According to the NRF, a lot of the spending is spurred by uncertainty. Families don't know if their kids will be back in classrooms this fall or learning online.

"It means you kind of need supplies for both," said Katherine Cullen, NRF senior director of industry and consumer insights.

The NRF's research also found a majority of consumers planned to buy electronics, with laptops topping the list.

NRF virtual learning
(Courtesy: NRF)

Many districts provide take-home computers or tablets, but some do not.

"For a lot of people, spending hundreds of dollars or a thousand dollars for a new laptop is not financially feasible right now," said Sara Beane with Swappa. "But you don't have to, that's the good news."

Swappa, based in Kansas City, is an online marketplace for gently used tech. The site recently compiled a list of the best back-to-school electronics for under $500.

According to Beane, Chromebooks have been extremely popular. Swappa has seen a 50% increase this year in sales of those devices.

The spending is expected to continue, especially in districts that start after Labor Day.

"I think we're going to see a longer shopping season, people waiting a little closer to the first couple of weeks until classes start to figure out what they need and how things are going to take place," Cullen said.

As of early August, families told the NRF they had only completed about 40% of their back-to-school shopping, a big drop compared to last year.