Back-to-School Costs Expected to Reach All-Time High

Julian Roberts-Grmela | August 2, 2023

(Chalkboard News) — A new report from the National Retail Federation found that back-to-school shopping is expected to cost consumers an all-time high. 

The industry association found families purchasing for K-12 students are expected to spend an average of about $890, about $25 more than last year.

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

The study, which NRF has been conducting annually since 2003, surveyed 7,843 consumers between June 30 and July 6.

The expected increase in spending is “primarily driven” by a high demand for electronics, according NRF’s report, which found that 69% of shoppers expect to buy electronics of other computer related devices this year compared to 65% last year.

“We see for back-to-school a relatively strong increase in expected spending on electronics over last year, and that’s even more stark when we compare it to 2019,” said NRF Vice President of Industry and Consumer Insights Katherine Cullen during a July 24 webinar. “We know the pandemic changed a lot when it came to learning environments and when it came to the types of products people needed.”

Steve Reed, an economist in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) program at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said in an interview that NRF’s findings do not necessarily mean prices have gone up. 

In fact, the CPI for educational books and supplies is down. Reed emphasized there is no CPI category for the broad, back-to-school shopping category that NRF studied.

Reed said NRF’s study measured total spending for back-to-school shopping, not prices of goods. Reed said that total spending can increase for two reasons: if prices go up, or if people purchase in larger quantities.

“People are buying more school supplies,” Reed said. “You need more stuff for schools, you’ll have to buy more electronics, more types of equipment.”