According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, total spending on back-to-school items is expected to reach $74.9 billion—up about 3 percent from $72.5 billion in 2013.
The average family with children enrolled in grades kindergarten through high school will spend $669.28, up 5 percent from last year, resulting in $26.5 billion in sales. The average back-to-school spending for a college student is expected to rise 10 percent to $916.48, sending total college spending to $48.4 billion.
“Slow improvements in the economy may have contributed to the growth in confidence among back-to-school shoppers,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation.
“While we are encouraged by the overall tone of the results and expect to see continued improvement in consumer spending through the year, we know Americans are still grappling with their purchase decisions every day.”
Increased spending on school supplies is expected to be one of the drivers behind the rise in back-to-school sales. Sales in this category are projected to rise 12 percent, to an average of $101.18. The NRF said this lift may correlate to schools requesting a longer list of items from families.
According to the National School Supply Lists Directory, required school supply lists for the upcoming year contain on average 18 items. That’s a 29 percent increase from 2013, as items such as tissues and hand wipes are being added into the equation more often.
Electronics are also driving budgets higher, with shoppers expected to spend $212.35 on these items—up 7 percent from 2013. College students, who account for nearly one-third of back-to-school spending, are expected to spend an average of $243.79 on laptops, tablets and the like—the most they’ve spent on this category since 2009.
Shoe and apparel retailers are also likely to see a boost, with both categories expected to post gains. While department and discount stores are anticipated to receive the majority of this traffic, more than half of back-to-school shoppers are expected to visit specialty apparel stores, according to the survey.
Although the teen unemployment rate remains high, the demographic is expected to have a larger influence on back-to-school sales this year, with the average 13- to 17-year-old planning to spend $34.40. That’s up from $30.13 last year. What’s more, most parents said at least half of their purchases are influenced by their children.
But despite a projected increase in spending, eight in 10 respondents said their spending plans are still impacted by the economy, a slight increase from last year. As such, more families will buy store-brand items, and nearly a quarter plans to reuse last year’s purchases.
Retailers from Lands’ End to Target are already targeting bargain-hungry shoppers with back-to-school deals. According to Experian Marketing Services, Web searches for back-to-school usually begin to spike in July, but have been moving slightly earlier. They typically peak in August.
“We expect parents to continue to use caution, but also make smart decisions for their family budget that is a good balance between what their children want and what they actually need,” Shay said.
—By CNBC’s Krystina Gustafson