Back-to-College Spending in Doldrums

July 25, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Retail & E-Commerce | Youth & Gen X

Though overall back-to-school spending is expected to grow this year, back-to-college spending will not, according to an NRF survey conducted by BIGresearch, which found that college students will on average spend just under $600 this year, down 7% from 2007.


Among the highlights:

  • Total back-to-college and back-to-school spending is expected to reach $51.4 billion; back-to-college spending is $31.26 billion of the total.
  • Electronics ($11.05 billion), clothing ($7.01 billion) and dorm/apartment furnishings ($4.74 billion) will remain the most popular categories.
  • Collegiate gear will capture $1.84 billion of the pie, with each student spending $35.26 in this new survey category.

Students are being more frugal during tough economic times and making fewer “fun purchases,” said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin.

  • Average spend on dorm furnishings ($90.90 vs. $109.85 last year) and apparel ($134.40 vs. $149.85) will decrease, though spending on shoes will remain flat.
  • Students will shop less at electronics stores (19.6% vs. 20.9% ), and electronics spend will fall to $211.89 per person from $258.43.
  • Still, electronics will account for the largest portion of college students’ budgets – particularly those of freshmen and graduate students:


College bookstores are the most likely to be affected by the drop in back-to-college spending, as 41.8% of students said they plan to buy from bookstores, down sharply from 57.2% last year.

The only category with a notable increase in per-person spend will be school supplies ($68.47 vs. $63.52 last year), showing that students are focusing more on necessities.

In addition, more students are saving money by living at home – more than half (54.1%) of respondents commute to campus from their parents’ houses, up from 49.7% last year.

About the Survey: The NRF 2008 Back to College Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey polled 8,361 consumers July 1-8, 2008.


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