Back To School: Parents Shop Earlier; Teens Cut Way Back

pencils and notebooksDetermined to be back-to-school bargain hunters, two new surveys show, parents are shopping earlier. And while they're spending more on things like electronics, they are holding the line on basics.

The National Retail Federation's 2008 Back to School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, polled more than 8,300 families and found that 46.4% plan to start shopping at least three weeks before school opens, up from 45.2% in 2007.

And a survey from the International Council of Shopping Centers, with a sample of more than 1,000 households, reports that 78.5% expect to wrap it all up in July and August, compared to 72.7% in 2007, or 69.5% in 2006.

The NRF survey predicts that the average family with school-age children will spend $594.24 on back-to-school purchases, compared to $563.49 last year--with total back-to-school spending for kindergarten through 12th grade estimated at $20.1 billion. And the ICSC is looking for family expenditures of just over $400, with 38% saying they plan to spend more than last year and 15% reporting they will spend less.

The NRF, which says 20% of parents have set aside a portion of their stimulus check for back-to-school purchases, says purse strings will be loosest in the electronics aisle, with average spending of $151.61 there, up from $129.24 last year.

But a surprisingly weak spot is the college market, with teens saying they will cut back on spending by 7% this year to $599.38 per person this year, compared to $641.56 per person last year, for a total of $31.26 billion. While electronics will still get the largest portion of their budget, spending will drop to $211.89 per person from $258.43 last year. Spending on clothing and dorm furnishings will also slip, and only one category--school supplies--will increase.

The survey also found that more students are cutting costs by living at home, with 54.1% of college students commuting to campus from their parents' houses this year, up from 49.7% last year.

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