Back to School in America By the Numbers (Spoiler Alert: The Average Family Buys 15 Pieces of Clothing)

Fueling my coffee runs, this post may contain affiliate links. I stand behind products I recommend.

My kiddos are little, age 3 and age 1. They’re not clamoring yet for the “It” brand jeans or leggings or hoodies. But they’re still growing, and at a pace that far eclipses older kids and tweens. So I still dig into Back to School (BTS) trends and sales, to see what deals I can haunt up.

I was curious to find out how much Americans are spending this year for Back-to-School 2021.

How Much Families Are Spending This Year for Back to School Shopping

  • $697 per household
    • $376 for apparel and clothing (with average household buying 15 items)
    • $203 on computers, calculators, tablets, and other electronics
    • $117 on backpacks, notebooks, and other school supplies

Check out this infographic to dig deeper.

Originally published on

2021 Back to School Trends

Back to School shopping numbers don’t capture the dollars spent on extra gas for school drop-offs and pick-ups, lunchbox love notes, apple juice boxes, or snack bags of gold fish and teddy grahams. (Or the costs of auto-detailing to remove those bajillion crumbs from your car seats.)

But with the back-to-school figures that retailer analysts do publish, I’ve made some interesting observations on back to school spending in 2021.

Jeans are cheaper these days. I found it interesting that the price of an average pair of jeans now, $18, is less than what I paid in high school. I paid around $25 to $50 per pair. Old Navy jeans were a bargain at $17, yet I found a rack of them for $5.97 at my local Old Navy store just the other week. I’m not a retail analyst or an economist, but it looks like the price of denim is going down.

15 items per household, (or 7 to 8 items per kid), seems low. With the proliferation of Shein and other fast fashion brands, and armies of clothes-hoarding moms on Facebook Buy Sell Trade (BST) groups, the figure of roughly 7.5 per kid seems low. I would guess 12-16 per kid. How many items are you buying for your kids?

74% of households say they will be buying some PPE or personal protective equipment. There’s a political split in how people view the severity (or reality) of Covid, so this was a surprise. And I would wager that the RF conducted their research before the emergence of new delta variants.

Around 15% of shoppers shop with a purpose. They say that they care about supporting minority owned businesses and the politics of retailers that they shop. Whether or not it’s mere lip service or the pocketbooks open is, I suspect, another study. I’ll be especially curious to see how Target’s Black Owned or Black Founded brands perform over Back to School.

75% of US households will do Back to School shopping in actual physical stores. Most households are doing a hybrid (some in store, some online), but Americans will be hitting up malls and shopping centers. This figure didn’t surprise me. A few years ago, it might have. But we all have a touch of shelter (in place) fever. Garbed in a face mask, I myself have set foot in a number of retailers over the past several months. There, I’ve actually tried on, and purchased, clothing in a physical store location – for the first time in at least 2 or 3 years.

Whether the average family’s spending on apparel surpasses $376 or not, I hope that sweatpants and joggers are on the decline. Initially a huge fan of all the “stylish” variations, I now find them terribly sad. I want to dress for interaction with other human beings, not my couch and a bowl of potato chips. But come visit me in non-sweatpants: we can sit on the couch together and eat loads of greasy Lays or anything kettle cooked.