Consumer Spending Spikes During Back-to-School Season

Back-to-school and college spending set to have another big year.

While the holidays dominate as the biggest consumer spending season of the year, the back-to-school spending season continues to gain traction in its own right.

The National Retail Federation’s annual Back-to-School survey1 estimates that total spending – for items such as notebooks, backpacks, electronics and clothing – for K-12 and college is projected to reach $82.8 billion in 2018. That doesn’t quite surpass the 2017 record high of $83.6 billion.

At the household level, families with kids in K-12 plan to spend an average $685 during the 2018 back-to-school frenzy, which is essentially equal to last year. The item they’re likely to spend the most on is clothing.

Chart showing a gradual increase in planned back to school spending from 2009 to 2018.

Parents with students heading off to college, as well as college and graduate students purchasing for themselves, plan to spend an average of $942 this year, down from the $970 average last year. College spending makes up $55.3 billion of the overall total of $82.8 billion.

Additionally, college spending includes expenses that don’t apply to students at the elementary or secondary level, like:

  • Dorm or apartment furnishings
  • Electronics like laptops and tablets
  • Food and personal care items
  • Collegiate-branded gear

Chart showing a gradual increase in planned back to college spending since 2009.

Back-to-school expenses are easier to manage when you have a plan. Same goes for saving for higher education. Get a plan that can put you on track and keep you there. Start with our education funding calculator, which can give you an idea of what higher education costs may be when your kids are ready to go. Then, talk with a financial advisor at Waddell & Reed about education funding options and a plan for your family.

1National Retail Federation, July 12, 2018,

2American Home Shield,

This information is provided for informational and educational purposes only. Waddell & Reed believes the information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but does not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided. 

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