PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Whether you’re loading up a cart in a store or online, back-to-school shopping is expensive.

The average family with kids in kindergarten through high school will spend an estimated $696.70 this year, up from $684.79 last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Though the average household spending on school supplies is higher than it’s ever been, total spending for K-12 families is down to $26.2 billion, compared to its peak: $30.3 billion in 2012. The NRF attributes the drop to fewer families with school-aged children.

  • Clothing and accessories: $239.82
  • Electronics: $203.44
  • Shoes: $135.96
  • Supplies (notebooks, pencils, backpacks, lunchboxes): $117.49

“From sneakers to accessories and sweatshirts and jeans, it starts to add up very quickly,” Johnson and Wales University’s Kristen Regine said.

For some, back-to-school spending extends beyond the immediate family. According to Deloitte’s annual back-to-school survey, 31% of consumers say they also plan to donate school supplies.

“We’re donating to children in need, but we’re also making that donation to our kids’ classroom in a public school system where we might not have that published list,” Regine explained.

Consider Cranston, for example. In a social media post, the school department said “the district is not posting supply lists” and that school supplies like folders and notebooks are “suggested but not required.”

Norma Cole, Cranston’s assistant superintendent, told Eyewitness News school supplies provided by families have always been considered donations.

Meg Geoghegan, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Education, said RIDE has not released any guidance on school supply policies.

“While schools may not legally charge students for instructional supplies that are essential to the provision of a quality education, determining what supplies are “essential” and what are not has historically been left to the local school districts to determine,” Geoghegan said.

Susan Campbell ( is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.