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WASHINGTON, DC-According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2006 Back-to-School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, families with school-aged children will be spending more on back-to-school shopping this year than last, with the average family spending $527.08, up from $443.77 in 2005.

According to the report, total spending across all categories is estimated to reach $17.6 billion, up from $13.4 billion last year, with electronic and apparel purchases experiencing the most substantial increases. Total spending on electronics, such as home computers, laptops, PDAs or calculators, is estimated to increase to $3.82 billion, up from $2.06 billion a year ago.

Average consumers are likely to spend $228.14 on apparel, up from $205.31 last year, adds the report. Other popular items on consumers’ back-to-school lists include shoes, for which consumers will dish out $98.34, and school supplies, such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks, and lunchboxes, which will add $86.22 at the register.

Geographically, West Coast consumers will increase their budgets, the report notes, spending $479.45 this year compared to $409.19 last year. Southerners are expected to spend more as well, with an average of $544.54 this year compared to $434.09 in 2005; and Midwesterners are adding $107.42 to their 2005 budget of $404.68. The only region pulling back is the Northeast, where consumers will be spending an estimated $456.38, down from $513.07 in 2005.

Phil Rist, VP of strategy for Worthington, OH-based BIGresearch, the firm that executed the survey, says this year several retailers will encourage consumers to begin their shopping sooner rather than later. With merchants rolling out special promotions and savings, “consumers will begin hitting the stores to scoop up essential back-to-school merchandise,” Rist says. The most popular back-to-school shopping designation continues to be discount stores, with nearly three-quarters, or 72.2%, of shoppers heading to discounters to purchase items on their lists, the report shows.

Many parents have already begun checking items off of their shopping lists as they hit the stores early to take advantage of back-to-school promotions. The NRF survey found that 16.5% of parents will begin shopping for back-to-school merchandise at least two months before school starts; 41.9% will begin three weeks to one month before school starts; and 32.5% will wait until one to two weeks before school begins.

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