Back-to-School Spending Expected to Climb for 2021 Season

It may only be early July, but back-to-school season is just around the corner in certain areas of the United States. Following a school year that likely looked different depending on the state, district, and school, 2021 may bring a return to (near) normal. In turn, American consumers are anticipated to spend more on back-to-school supplies this year. ​

According to new data from Deloitte, back-to-school spending is expected to reach its highest levels in recent years. In total, spending for students in grades K-12 is anticipated to top $32.5 billion. This amounts to approximately $612 per student. Meanwhile, although combined spending for college students will likely be $26.7 billion this year, the average spending per student is pegged at a much higher $1,459.

Taking a closer look at the figures, expenses such as electronics and computers are expected to make up a larger share of total spending. In fact, while “clothing and accessories” will still make up a plurality of spending, this category is forecast to dip 1% year over year from $12.4 billion to $12.3 billion. Going back further, these types of items accounted for $15 billion in 2019. The second-largest spending category for 2021 is a tie between “computer and hardware” and “electronic gadgets,” each accounting for $5.9 billion. Notably, computer spending is up 28% YoY while general electronics spending will see a 47% rise. Elsewhere, other school supplies spending is set to increase 10% to $5.5 billion and spending on “COVID-19 related items” will grow 42% from its 2020 debut to reach $2.9 billion.

In terms of how consumers plan to conduct their back-to-school shopping this year, a number of “emerging technologies” are likely to play a role. In 2021, 44% of shoppers surveyed said they plan to use one or more of the technologies listed by Deloitte — up from 26% last year. For example, 20% stated that they will use a voice assistant to help with shopping this year compared to 14% last year. Additionally, at least 10% of respondents planned on using other technologies such as digital wallets, social media “buy” buttons, virtual reality, augmented reality, and chatbots in 2021. All of these options saw single-digit responses in 2020.

Commenting on this year’s report,  Deloitte LLP vice chairman Ron Sides stated, “As Americans anticipate a more traditional return to the back-to-school season, the good news is that parents are ready to spend more and earlier to ensure their children have what they need to be successful. This includes increased spending on technology for both K-12 and college students, demonstrating a shifting focus on how students learn as well as how parents are shopping for these necessities.” Sides went on to say, “We’ve entered a new era of schooling where traditional back-to-school supplies are fading in favor of tech, while consumers expect certain conveniences and competitive prices. Retailers that demonstrate their resiliency during this time will appeal to shoppers and be better positioned to capitalize on growing consumer sentiment.”

The good news is that, while many families may need to invest in new back-to-school tech now, there is the hope that some devices will be able to carry them through subsequent school years. Of course, as that happens, it’s possible we’ll see the “clothing and accessories” category occupying an even larger percentage of annual spending. In any case, hopefully this school year really does mark a return to normalcy, even if it does end up costing a pretty penny.


Jonathan Dyer

I'm a small town guy living in Los Angeles looking to make solid financial decisions. I write for a number of finance websites, including HuffingtonPost and Business2Community. I founded in 2015 to focus on personal finance and the emerging FinTech markets.

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