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Back-to-school shopping could cost you more this year than ever before, survey says

Like most things in 2020, COVID-19 is to blame

School tech supplies.
School tech supplies. (WKMG)

ORLANDO, Fla. – With just weeks left until the fall semester is set to begin, many still don’t know how their student will be learning this fall due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic but a recent study shows parents do expect an increase in how much the start of the school year will cost them.

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual Back-to-School Spending Survey, consumers expect to spend a record amount of money to prepare students for school and college this year, due largely in part to e-learning plans in place across the country as the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continues to rise.

The survey of 7,481 consumers was conducted July 1-8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points, according to the NRF.

The 2020 data shows parents with children in elementary school through high school plan to spend an average of $789.49 per family, up from the previous record of $696.70 parents said they expected to pay last year.

The NRF said overall back-to-school spending for K-12 students is expected to total $33.9 billion, a sharp increase from $26.2 billion last year and breaking the record of $30.3 billion set in 2012.

Parents of college students also expect to spend a bigger chunk of money this year with each family expected to spend an average of $1,059.20, according to the 2020 findings. This year’s per-family spending is expected to break last year’s record of $976.78 per family. Overall back-to-school shopping for college students is expected to total $67.7 billion, up quite a bit from $54.5 billion last year and exceeding the record of $55.3 billion set in 2018.

Total spending for K-12 and college students combined is expected to reach $101.6 billion – shattering last year’s $80.7 billion and topping the $100 billion mark for the first time, according to the NRF.

Many school districts throughout the U.S. are still working to finalize their back-to-plans, which is likely why the consumers surveyed had only finished 17% of their school shopping on average by early July. With fall semester plans still up in the air, many shoppers say they just aren’t sure what they’ll need.

Despite all the uncertainty, 55% of shoppers surveyed expected K-12 and college students will take at least a portion of their classes at home this fall. According to the NRF, only 26% of those surveyed expect most or all classes will be taught in-person.

Of the portion of shoppers expecting their student to be learning from home this fall, 72% believe they’ll have to buy items like computers, furniture and other supplies to accommodate that style of learning. As you know, those items can get pretty costly.

Laptops, speakers and headphones, desks and chairs, tablets and other electronic accessories are among the list of top items consumers plan to buy specifically due to distance learning, according to the NRF.

An overwhelming 88% of consumers said the coronavirus will affect their back-to-school shopping in some way, according to the NRF, which makes it pretty safe to say that -- like many of the worst parts of 2020 -- you can blame COVID-19 for any extra money you may be forking over ahead of the fall semester.

Click here for a closer look at the study and its findings.


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