Never mind that when I left for college (University of Missouri, 1966), Mother bought me white towels (so that they would go with everything), some sheets to fit the twin bed in the dorm and a bucket (to carry my toiletries to the group bathroom down the hall). My roomie and I bought new, matching bedspreads, and that was probably about it except for the requisite beginning of a new school year clothes to replace the ones we wore out the year before. The two of us shared sweaters and knee socks in both high school and college so we got twice as much wear out of our clothes.
If my parents had spent the average $956.93 parents will spend this year on back-to-college preparation, I would have had to forfeit my tuition and my books and worked in Columbia, Mo., instead of going to school there.
Times have changed. (So, what else is new?) In addition to the astronomical cost of a college education today, parents also have to see that their college-bound teens have computers, cell phones, digital cameras and trendy furnishings. The total cost of that will hit $47.3 billion this year. National Retai Federation (NRF) President Tracy Mullin noted, “Colored laptops, stylish cell phones and distinctive dorm furniture will appeal to today’s students and should be big sellers in retail stores across the country.”
Young people headed to college will spend $7.41 billion (up from last year’s $5.78 billion) on clothes and accessories. They’ll pay out $12.8 billion for electronics. (Oh, that reminds me, I think I received a portable typewriter as a high school graduation gift. That was a college necessity back in the day.)
My parents were real troopers to schlep me to Memphis, Tenn., every summer so that I could buy a pair of Bass Weejuns for the fall. That was, uh, one pair. College-age kids this year will ring up $2.96 billion on shoe purchases and another $3.14 billion buying notebooks, folders and pencils. The cost of textbooks this year will go over the $15 billion mark, not real surprising, as that was always one of the big costs of college (even for those of us who bought as many used books as possible).
When my roomie and I moved out of the dorm into an apartment, we raided our parents homes for furnishings (I even took the bed right out of my bedroom at home). Spending for dorm and apartment furnishings by 2007 college-bound kids will reach $5.43 billion, a jump from $3.82 billion last year.
College bookstores will get 57.2 percent of back-to-college dollars; discounters will take in 51.5 percent; department stores 41.8 percent; office supply stores 35.6 percent; clothing stores 34.3 percent; and electronics stores 20.9 percent. Nearly one-third of back-to-college shoppers will buy online.
A surprising (to me) statistic to emerge from the NRF’s Back-to-College survey is that 49.7 percent of students will live at home. That made all this spending even more surprising until the survey revealed that students living on campus will outspend others by a wide margin. (More on that in a second.) Another 28.6 percent of students will live off campus; 18.7 percent will stay in a dorm; and 1.3 percent will live in either a fraternity or sorority house.
And here is the statistic that confirms families save money when college kids live at home: Dorm dwellers are expected to spend $1,529.45 on college merchandise, nearly double the $774.86 that students living at home will spend and more than the $1,161.98 that will be spent by students living off campus.
This is, I guess, bad news for parents and good news for retailers, who should break out the college pennants and reap the rewards. These families are going to spend that money somewhere; may as well be your store.