booksWASHINGTON D.C., Jul 16, 2009 / — With the current economic situation, the rules of back-to-school shopping have officially changed: buy only what you need, check for coupons and sales before hitting the stores, and, if you can find the perfect computer at the right price, grab it!

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2009 Back to School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, the average family with students in grades Kindergarten through 12 is expected to spend $548.72 on school merchandise, a decline of 7.7 percent from $594.24 in 2008. Total spending on back to school is expected to reach $17.42 billion.

The economy is having a major impact on back-to-school spending as four out of five Americans (85%) have made some changes to back-to-school plans this year as a result. Some of those changes impact spending, with 56.2 percent of back-to-school shoppers hunting for sales more often, 49.6 percent planning to spend less overall, 41.7 percent purchasing more store brand/generic products and 40.0 percent are planning to increase their use of coupons.

Others say the economy has impacted lifestyle decisions, with 11.4 percent saying children will cut back on extracurricular activities or sports and 5.7 percent saying that the economy is impacting whether their children will attend a private or public school.

Spending in most back-to-school categories is expected to decrease, with one bright spot: electronics. With personal laptops and desktop computers increasingly affordable for most families, spending on electronics and computer equipment is expected to increase 11 percent.

According to the survey, the average family plans to spend $167.84 on those purchases, compared to $151.61 last year. Families will also spend an average of $204.67 on clothing and accessories, $93.59 on shoes, and $82.62 on school supplies.

While the first days of school may seem eons away, many Americans have already started shopping. According to the survey, the majority of Americans (44.4%) will begin their shopping three weeks to one month before school starts, trying to take advantage of retailers’ early promotions and spend over time.

An additional 31.8 percent will shop one to two weeks before school starts and 2.5 percent will shop after school starts, hoping to take advantage of clearance sales and postpone purchases as long as possible.

Average College Spending Increases Slightly, Students More Likely to Live at Home

Even with the uncertainties the economy continues to present, college-bound students and their families are prepared to shell out a little extra this year. NRF’s back-to-college survey, conducted by BIGresearch, found that college students and their parents will spend an average of $618.12 this year, up three percent over last year’s $599.38.

With fewer people planning to attend college this fall, total college spending is expected to decrease to $30.08 billion.

As in previous years, families of freshmen will spend the most on back-to-college purchases ($820.77 on average), largely due to major purchases of computer and dorm furnishings. Sophomores will spend the second-highest amount ($496.16), followed by juniors ($470.56), then seniors ($442.00).

College students and their families will spend an average of $118.56 on apparel, $57.85 on shoes, $34.52 on collegiate gear, $61.05 on school supplies and $80.06 on dorm or apartment furniture. Spending on electronics or computer-related items is increasing for students ($266.08 on electronics compared to $211.89 last year) as laptops become a requirement for many colleges and universities across the country.

2009 back-to-college and back-to-school spending combined will total $47.50 billion.