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According to the National Retail Federation’s 2009 Back to School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, the average family with students in grades Kindergarten through 12 is expected to spend $548.72 on school merchandise, a decline of 7.7 percent from $594.24 in 2008.

According to the survey, the economy is having a major impact on back-to-school spending as four out of five Americans (85 percent) have made some changes to back-to-school plans this year as a result. Some of those changes impact spending, with 56.2 percent of back-to-school shoppers hunting for sales more often, 49.6 percent planning to spend less overall, 41.7 percent purchasing more store brand/generic products and 40.0 percent are planning to increase their use of coupons. Others say the economy has impacted lifestyle decisions, with 11.4 percent saying children will cut back on extracurricular activities or sports and 5.7 percent saying that the economy is impacting whether their children will attend a private or public school.

“Americans will be looking far and wide for the best back-to-school deals, using newspaper ads, online promotion codes, and a lot of comparison shopping before making decisions,” says Phil Rist, executive vice president, Strategic Initiatives, BIGresearch. “This year, many parents hope to begin back-to-school shopping early to spread the spending out over a longer period of time.”

Many Americans reportedly have already started their back-to-school shopping, even though we’re only in mid-July. According to the survey, the majority of Americans (44.4%) will begin their shopping three weeks to one month before school starts, trying to take advantage of retailers’ early promotions and spend over time. An additional 31.8 percent will shop one to two weeks before school starts and 2.5 percent will shop after school starts, hoping to take advantage of clearance sales and postpone purchases as long as possible.

Also according to the survey, back-to-college buyers say the economy will cause them to spend less overall (48.0%), shop for sales more often (46.1%), and comparative shop with ad circulars/newspapers (30.8%). The economy will also cause some students to make do with last year’s school items (33.6%), share or borrow textbooks instead of buying new ones (17.4%), and will impact students’ choice of college (15.0%).

In addition, 12.8 percent of survey respondents say the economy will impact where a student lives, with many choosing to save money by living at home. Nearly three out of five (58.5%) college students will be living at home this year, compared to 54.1 percent last year and 49.1 percent in 2007.
KC's View:
Speaking as a parent of a recent college graduate not living at home (he lives in Chicago as an aspiring writer and actor while working almost full-time at Argo Tea), I have to say that I’m glad we’re down to just two tuitions to pay, with all the ancillary expenses.

There may be a silver lining in all these numbers, by the way. Students hopefully will be getting a crash course in economics as they face financial realities this fall … which should make them more responsible in the long-term.