With cooler temperatures and changing leaves, autumn signals the beginning of a new school year.
If you’re the parent of a 4- to 21-year-old son or daughter, you probably just spent more money than you’d like to think about in an effort to equip them with backpacks, textbooks, supplies, and clothes for the next nine months. While shopping may have tested your wallet and your patience, you can feel good knowing that your purchases boost the local and state economy. Second only to the holiday season in terms of overall retail sales, back-to-school purchases fuel significant consumer retail spending across the nation.
For each major retail season, the National Retail Federation surveys annual spending patterns. While official numbers have not yet been released for back-to-school 2016, the survey found that Americans planned to spend a total of $75.8 billion on supplies this year—a big jump from last year’s $68 billion. Included in the $75.8 billion are clothing and accessories, electronics, shoes, and school supplies like notebooks and pencils.
Back-to-school spending typically goes in two-year cycles, with a large stock-up year followed by a smaller make-do year where supplies from the previous school year are recycled and reused. This year is considered a stock-up year: though families still shopped for bargains, they also spent more money on supplies that they hope will last. Parents and guardians slightly mitigated the effects of higher spending by starting earlier—fully one to two months before the beginning of school.
In Idaho, teachers suggest supplies for children to bring. In addition to shopping for these supplies, parents purchase cell phone plans for their kids and sign them up for extracurricular activities, which expands back-to-school spending. The top two spending categories for K-12 students nationally were clothing, at an average of $235.39 per family, and electronics, at $204.06 per family. For returning college students, these two spending categories were reversed.
While parents purchase school supplies to equip students for the school year, other purchases help Idaho schools directly, one of which is lottery purchases. The 2016 lottery raised nearly $31 million for the State Department of Education. Lottery proceeds allow schools to finance one-time building needs, such as improvements to libraries or safety enhancements to drop-off zones in school parking lots.
Spending of all kinds helps improve Idaho’s economy, particularly when shoppers support local businesses. Retailers in Idaho depend on back-to-school spending—both in-store and online—to boost revenue, support jobs, and make way for holiday inventory. As kids arrive in school with new backpacks, clothes, and supplies, our national and local economies stand a bit taller.