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Back-to-school tab swells as college student spending seen hitting record high

  • Back-to-college spending should reach $54.1 billion, and back-to-school spending should reach $29.5 billion, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation.
  • College spending could set a new record, while elementary through high school shopping could outpace last year but still fall behind the all-time record achieved in 2012.
  • College students and their families plan to shop mostly online. Parents of younger children plan to shop mostly at department store.
Customers shop for back-to-school supplies at a Target store in Colma, California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Customers shop for back-to-school supplies at a Target store in Colma, California.

It's almost time for college students to head back to school, and they're planning on spending more than ever this year.

Back-to-college spending is expected to reach an all-time high this year thanks to greater consumer confidence and more young adults enrolled in school, according to the National Retail Federation's annual survey. Total spending should reach $54.1 billion, up from $48.5 billion last year.

Families with elementary schoolers through high schoolers are expected to spend a total of $29.5 billion, compared with last year's $27.3 billion. Despite the increase, spending would still fall short of the record $30.3 billion reached in 2012.

The National Retail Federation's survey results are likely welcome news for the retail industry, which has been hammered by decreasing foot traffic as shoppers buy online, especially from Amazon.

"Families are now in a state of mind where they feel a lot more confident about the economy," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. "With stronger employment levels and a continued increase in wages, consumers are spending more and we are optimistic that they will continue to do so throughout the rest of the year."

College students and their families plan to spend an average of $969.88 this year, compared with $888.72 last year. They expect to spend the most amount of money on electronics, clothing and snacks and food items.

Parents with younger students anticipate spending an average of $687.72, with most money going toward clothing, electronics and school supplies.

For college students and their parents, the top three shopping destinations are online, discount stores or department store. Families shopping for their elementary through high school students plan to take a more traditional route and buy from department stores, discount stores or online.

Stores that are introducing deals early in the summer could benefit even more, as the National Retail Federation found more families are shopping well before the first day of school. Consulting firm Deloitte published a study that found similar results.