Consumers plan to spend an average of several hundred dollars to upward of $600 getting kids ready for school, and plenty aren't waiting until August, the busiest back-to-school spending period.
The National Retail Federation expects families with school-age children to spend an average of $635 on clothing, shoes, supplies and electronics, down from $689 last year, or $26.7 billion total.
Meanwhile, the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs place the average estimate per household much lower, at $285, and said a third of the shoppers polled in a recent survey have started shopping already.
It's no wonder, as the big retail chains began launching promotions earlier this month.
Walmart is promising 250 school supplies for less than $1, putting all its school supplies in a new "Teachers Corner" section and preparing to sell 42 million boxes of crayons.
Kmart kicked off the season with "Yo Momma" playground ads, featuring kids boasting about "Yo Momma" being "smart to shop at Kmart" for back-to-school. The retailer is offering free in-store layaway for members of its online rewards club, "Shop Your Way," and buy-one, get-one-free deals on shoes. College students can place orders online and pickup purchases from the Kmart store closest to their campus.
Many shoppers in ICSC's survey – 39 percent – plan to spend more this year than last. Forty-five percent plan to spend the same amount as last year, and only 17 percent expect to spend less. Those spending more said they need to replace clothing and school supplies.
"Consumers typically view back-to-school merchandise as [an] essential expenditure, which is likely a key reason that so many consumers plan to increase spending this year," said Michael P. Niemira, ICSC's chief economist. "This year, consumers plan to do considerably more of that shopping at discount stores."
The ICSC survey showed that 90 percent will do more shopping at mass discounters than anywhere else. About 44 percent will shop mostly at office supply stores, and 41 percent will shop primarily at department stores.
The NRF, which is calling for average spending to be down from last year's historically high levels, breaks down the spending like this: an average $231 on apparel, $114 on shoes, $90 on school supplies and $199 on electronics.
That survey found that eight in 10 shoppers expected economic conditions to change their spending in some way.