Students head into school.
About five million Australians will spend an average of $512 on school supplies, a survey has found. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS
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Back to school sales to book up billions of dollars

January 19, 2024

Australians are expected to spend $2.5 billion on back to school purchases, with stationary, uniforms and footwear the most common buys.

The inaugural Australian Retailers Association research found about five million Australians would spend an average of $512 each on school supplies.

Forty-four per cent said they would spend more than last year while 22 per cent said their bill would be about the same, the research done in partnership with Roy Morgan showed.

The most popular purchases would be stationary, school uniforms, footwear, books and lunch boxes.

School bags
 Retailers say back to school sales are a boost for their businesses early in the year. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

ARA chief executive Paul Zahra said the projected spend on back to school items was a positive sign for retailers.

“Back to school sales are important for retailers to build momentum after the Boxing Day period and springboard into the year ahead,” he said.

“With high interest rates and tighter budgets, parents will be expecting better value than ever before.”

But Mr Zahra did acknowledge some families would struggle, noting schools and state governments had exemptions and financial support available.

“With the cost-of-living crunch, it’s very tough out there for a lot of families – especially when it comes to purchasing back to school items for their children,” he said.

“These aren’t just items on a shopping list – they’re essentials that can make a real difference in a child’s life.”

Opposition education spokeswoman Sarah Henderson said costs were mounting for parents to meet basic education needs for their children.

“Every parent across Australia wants to ensure their children receive the education they deserve, yet it is becoming an enormous financial burden,” she said.

“Now we are hearing that parents have even said they may be forced to pull their kids out of extracurricular activities because of the cost.”

Education Minister Jason Clare said funding for public schools was helping with costs for parents.

“One of the big important things that we need to do this year is make sure that we fund our public schools properly to make sure that they’ve got the resources they need to help children who fall behind to catch up, to keep up, to finish school,” he said.

“That will help with costs, but also make sure that their children get the education that they deserve.”

More Australians are turning to loans to get their children back to school, with NAB expecting customers to take out no-interest loans of more than $640,000 in February.

The total value of the bank’s education loans has grown by 73 per cent since 2018. 

A Finder survey of 1039 people also showed 30 per cent of respondents were unable to pay for essential equipment such as stationary and uniforms. 

Eleven per cent of parents surveyed admitted they would have to go into debt to pay back to school costs, which average $2547 for a primary school child and $4793 for secondary students.