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The pricey business of going to school

Posted at 11:49 AM, Sep 08, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-08 11:50:09-04

LONDON  — Pencils have been sharpened, lunch boxes packed, now the bell is ringing.

It’s back to school time. And for many parents, this means reaching deep into their pockets.

This year, shoppers in the U.S. will spend more than $26.5 billion on school items for nearly 50 million children going to public schools. The cost of kitting out a pupil has risen rapidly — by nearly 50% in just five years, according to National Retail Federation. In the UK, the annual bill for items used by its 8.3 million children at school will be more than $4 billion, Santander research shows.

The shopping spree makes the start of a new school year one of the busiest shopping periods for retailers, second only to the winter holiday season.

The most expensive items on the shopping list are electronic gadgets, rapidly becoming essential items for school kids.

Almost 60% of shoppers in the U.S. plan to buy electronic items for their children, while in the UK, 38% of parents purchase new technology for their kids, according to Bright House retailer.

The NRF figures show American parents spend on average $211 per child, while uSwitch figures show their British counterparts fork out average $215 on each child’s electronics.

But school goods don’t have to be high tech to be expensive. Pens, bags, books, lunch boxes and other essentials add up to whopping $98 per a child in the U.S. and slightly more modest $81 per youngster in the UK.

School uniforms and other clothing items add up to $224 per child in the U.S., and $142 in the UK. On top of that, shoes cost on average $116 in the U.S. and $86 in the UK.

But parents on both sides of the Atlantic said they are trying to keep their back to school spending in check. In the U.S., 31% of families plan to spend less overall and 34% said they were buying generic products rather than big brands to save money, according to the NRF.