With last year’s unprecedented school year behind us, it’s no surprise that parents and kids alike are excited about going back to classrooms in person this year. As a result, back-to-school spending is projected to increase this year and that can be a source of stress for parents still experiencing financial issues due to the pandemic.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $849 on school items this year — $59 more than last year. Total back-to-school spending is expected to reach a record $37.1 billion, up from $33.9 billion last year. But higher spending isn’t the only way back-to-school shopping will be different this year.

The pandemic has impacted the supply of many consumer goods, and some school products such as backpacks, sneakers, electronic gadgets and stationery will be in high demand this year because supply chains may not be able to keep up. While it won’t be as extreme as the toilet paper issue last spring where products just weren’t available, it will reduce the products available compared to past years.

Back-to-school wardrobes will cost more this year. Parents will spend 10% to 15% more on apparel compared to last year. Plus, retailers won’t be offering the same level of sales and discounts on apparel as in previous years.

The NRF reports that electronics is still the top spending category for back-to-school shopping this year. And according to Deloitte's 2021 Back to School Survey, digital learning tools are replacing traditional school supplies, driving tech sales up 37% over last year.

There are a few new items on this year’s back-to-school buying list for kids who are in areas where they are/will be required to – or simply prefer to mask up before returning to the classroom. According to JungleScout, search volume for the keyword “kids face masks” was up 204% on Amazon over the past month in anticipation of the return to school.

While most parents still plan to do the majority of their shopping in-store, more will be shopping online than in previous years. This year, 39% of parents plan to do their back-to-school shopping online.

Back-to-school buying doesn’t have to break the bank. Employers who offer voluntary benefits, such as discounts and employee purchase programs like Purchasing Power, can help their employees buy wisely and use payroll deduction to make manageable payments on everything from laptops to backpacks, even furniture for a study space or supplies for a dorm room.

Back-to-school can be a time of anxiety and stress for kids and parents. But parents can provide the necessary school supplies for a successful school year and pay over time through the convenience and discipline of payroll deduction. Voluntary benefits that provide a means to make those necessary back-to-school purchases can help reduce employees’ financial stress—which contributes directly to an employer’s bottom line.

Written by: Mike Wilbert, Purchasing Power Chief Revenue Officer