The passing of Labor Day brings the unofficial end of summer. It means the end of cookouts, beach days, and to some of the older generation, the end of wearing the color “white” until after next Me­morial Day!

Regardless of the fashion rules you may follow, Labor Day week­end is also the unofficial beginning of the new school year, and the peak of back to school shopping.

The school shopping season is second only to the Christmas shopping season, and many re­tailers depend on this heavy spending push after the slower summer shopping season.

According to the National Re­tail Federation (NRF), this year the average family will spend $789.49 on back to school shopping, topping last year's record of $696.70 per family.

As a whole, the NRF is expecting back to school sales to reach a total of $33.9 billion, up from $26.2 billion in 2019. However, where the money will be spent this year may change from past years.

According to projections in a recent survey done by Deloitte, the largest international professional accounting service network, back to school consumers will be spending their money differently than in the past three years.

While in the past clothing and school supplies took up the bulk of the back to school shopping budget, this year spending will be focused on electronics purchases, desks, and personal hy­giene products.

Because many school systems are choosing remote learning or hybrid learning, with limited in person school hours, students are more likely to dress casually, spending less on new back to school wardrobes.

Jokes are prevalent on social media about the fact that Am­ericans are spending most of their time wearing pajamas due to working from home and re­mote classrooms for students. But for retailers, this is no laugh­ing matter.

Although back to school spending is projected to be up, many mall apparel stores are bracing for a “soft” back to school shopping season.

Much of the back-to-school clothes shopping is expected to be absorbed by big box stores like Target and Walmart, in part because families are limiting public exposure due to COVID-19, and are making less trips to the store. Big box stores offer one stop shopping for all their back to school needs (clothing, electronics, school supplies), and eliminate a trip to the mall.

These shopping trends are also similar for college students. With many schools choosing not to have students on campus, or giving the option of remote learning, the sales of dorm room items like bedding and bath accessories is expected to be down this year.

If you have not started back to school shopping yet because of the Massachusetts delay of the first day of school, be prepared to hit some bumps in the shopping road.

Because of the high demand due to remote working and learning, there is a shortage of laptops this shopping season.

If you are still on the hunt for a laptop for your student, ex­perts recommend you be flexible and have a backup plan if you are eyeing a certain computer model. You may also want to consider a desktop PC, which tends to be in better supply than laptop computers.

There might be a need to get a bit creative if you are still looking for an at home desk or workstation for your student. Many inexpensive student desks are on backorder, as retailers have had an unexpected surge of desk purchases in recent months due to the pandemic.

Consider a small folding table from a home improvement store and some stackable, plastic draw­ers to keep school supplies nearby in place of a traditional desk.

Another “do it yourself” choice for a desk could be two small bookshelves with a piece of laminate countertop, that is also available at home improvement stores. This will provide a workspace with storage for books and supplies.

There is no denying that the 2020/21 school year will look nothing like other school sessions experienced in recent years. With careful shopping, planning, and perhaps some creative thinking, our students can still have a memorable and productive school year, be it in the classroom or at your kitchen table. Our collective support for the student body, starting at kindergarten up to the college campus, will help pave a smoother path for the future of us all.

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