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Canadian back-to-school shoppers frugal compared to U.S.

Liam Lahey

How much did you or your family spend on the back-to-school season this year? While the post-spending receipt tally may have you questioning your sanity, Canadian consumers should know their back-to-school spending habits are slightly less extravagant compared to consumers in the U.S.

Back to school spending is big business and is now the second-biggest consumer spending season with parents in the U.S. expected to spend more than $30 billion this year on everything from clothing to school supplies.

How do Canadians compare? There is an estimated 5,077,021 elementary and secondary students and 1,905,516 post-secondary students enrolled in Canadian schools, by Statistics Canada's count. But just how much are Canadians spending on education? According to Statistics Canada's latest numbers, consumers spent:

  • $123.6 million on school supplies

  • $206.2 million on textbooks

  • $5,366 on tuition fees by full-time undergraduate students

  • $1,151 on overall education expenditure for all households in Canada

Fast-forward to 2012, and Ernst & Young says Canadian back-to-school spending will climb by only 2.5 per cent this year as families hunt for bargains on both sides of the border.

"Back-to-school sales started on July 1 south of the border, stimulating demand and forcing Canadian retailers to follow suit and get in step earlier than ever," Daniel Baer, Ernst & Young partner, said in a statement. "Consumers' low confidence level means they are careful, looking for bargains despite brand loyalty, and aren't hesitant to compare prices before buying, whether shopping in stores or online from home or by mobile."

Meanwhile, a BMO survey suggests Canucks will pay 13 per cent more on back-to-school this year versus last, spending an average of $362 (up from $319 in 2011). The average amount spent is expected to be $164 for a child in elementary school, $171 for a high-school student and $213 for a post-secondary student.

From a regional perspective, BMO finds Quebeckers, for the second year in a row will spend the most on back-to-school shopping ($421), followed by Atlantic Canadians and British Columbians ($397). Those on the Prairies plan to spend the least ($200).

Canadians frugal compared to U.S.

Compared to what American parents are projected to spend in back-to-school-related items this year, the U.S.-based National Retail Federation finds parents with children in grades K-12 will spend US$668.62 this fall, up from $603.63 in 2011. Total back-to-school spending in the States is pegged to reach $30.3 billion.

A similar poll conducted by Pollara for Visa Canada last month finds the average Canadian family will shell out slightly less than their U.S. counterparts at $677 for clothing and gear, including electronics. The same poll also finds more Canadian families will be shopping for back to school deals online than in-person (60 per cent of respondents). Moreover, respondents to the Visa Canada survey say they'll spend their money in this country (83 per cent of in-store purchases and 72 per cent online).

Breaking it down by region, Visa Canada's survey reveals that Ontario residents are the largest online spenders in Canada and intend to spend an average of $290. On the whole, shoppers in Ontario and Alberta were expected to spend the most leading up to Labour Day ($757 and $727 respectively). Prairies residents were expected to spend the least online at $160. Families in Quebec are planning to spend the least overall, the report says, at $519 on average ($227 online).