Tiffany Slaney-Leigh, 14, of El Cerrito, Calif., says she'd love to get a laptop, an iPhone, three-inch wedge sneakers, mini dresses and a butterfly tattoo on her hip before starting ninth grade this fall.
That's not going to happen.
"The economy is uncertain," said her mother, Kim Slaney. The office-operations manager will spend $500 on Tiffany's clothes after dropping $800 in 2012. "You take a few steps forward and a few steps back."
Plenty of other consumers are feeling the same way. U.S. households are planning to shell out an average of 7.8 percent less for this year's back-to-school shopping season because of the bumpy economic recovery, the National Retail Federation says.
The potentially lackluster spending is one more signal that consumers are conflicted about the strength of the recovery and the stability of their buying power. That means retailers will have to keep prices low and offer exclusive products to fare well during the important back-to-school season, second only in importance to the year-end holiday season.
Total back-to-school spending may total $26.7 billion this year, the Washington-based NRF said July 18. That translates to an average of about $634.78 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics for parents with school-age children, down from $688.62 last year, the group said.
"There is no question that the economy still has a tight grip on Americans' spending decisions," NRF Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said on a conference call. "People are finding ways to get by."
About 90 percent of consumers plan to shop in discount stores, up from 83 percent in 2012, according to a survey from the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers. They'll also cut back on gadgets, with only 56 percent of families with children in kindergarten through 12th grade planning to purchase electronics this year, down from 60 percent last year, according to the ICSC.