Fear of layoffs a factor in back-to-school shopping outlook this year

In theory I subscribe to the needs-over-wants attitude toward back-to-school shopping. But when that list of must-have school supplies landed in our mailbox a while back, I have to admit, the thought of buying a brand-new box of crayons and new glue made me smile.

Back to school already? But there are still almost two months to go before the first day of school on August 29!

Nevertheless, the National Retail Federation is preparing to release its latest survey results, which focus on parent expectations on their back-to-school shopping needs.

Back-to-school shoppers are expected to be a little more practical-minded this year, according to NRF partner BIGresearch. The survey results showed that nearly half the respondents report being more practical shoppers already.

And more than 25 percent of respondents said they fear that more job layoffs are coming – which goes hand-in-hand with the one-third of respondents who say they are focusing their financial activities on paying down debt, leading to a decrease in spending.

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Now it’s dad’s turn: Father’s Day spending expected to increase

Recession resmeshen. Just as Mother’s Day spending was predicted to pick up this year, so too are the experts saying that Father’s Day spending will increase. In fact, the National Retail Federation says spending will reach its highest level in at least eight years, with Americans expected to shell out slightly more than $106 on average for Dad.

This is still less than 2011 Mother’s Day spending, which was predicted to top $140 – but it’s significantly more than the $94.82 average spent on Father’s Day presents last year.

“Spending on Dad has taken a backseat for the past few years, but some kids and wives are planning to make up for lost time this Father’s Day,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Shoppers seem to be more excited when it comes to gift giving, an encouraging sign for retailers – and dads – everywhere.”

Huh. I sure hope my husband doesn’t see this as an encouraging sign. I happen to know for a fact that our daughter’s entire savings amounts to $17.50. That might buy a tie or some fishing tackle, but the more likely gift is going to be a handmade something-or-other and a hand-drawn card. Of course, he’ll get the day “off” to do whatever he wants, and maybe I’ll help Willow make her dad his favorite breakfast or dinner. Or maybe we’ll treat him to a meal at a restaurant.

Whatever the day brings, I know it won’t have to cost a dime to be absolutely wonderful.

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Montana public schools spend more than $10,000 per student

As the 2010-2011 school year approaches its end, it’s a good time to look back and think about the value of an education. My daughter’s first year of kindergarten, I must say, has been priceless.

But the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t deal in such abstracts; it deals in cold, hard numbers – and the latest data says that in 2009, public school systems in the United States spent an average of $10,499 per student. That amounts to a total of almost $605 billion, which represents a 2 percent increase in spending over 2008.

Montana schools districts spent slightly less than that per pupil. Here, the number is $10,059 per student in 2009 – which puts our state in the middle of the pack, at 25th place, in terms of spending.

Per-student spending in New York is the highest, at $18,126. Lest you think urban areas with big population centers always spend the most, I’ll also point out that Alaska comes in at fourth place, with $15,552 spent per student. But I’m going to guess that it’s able to spend that much because the state is simply sloshing with oil money.

On the other side of the spending line, Utah spent the least (only $6,356 per student), and Montana’s neighbor to the west, Idaho, spent only a little more ($7,092).

This information comes from all 15,331 public schools districts in the U.S. The tabulation itself can be found in the Census Bureau’s “Public Education Finances: 2009.” There’s a lot more information of interest to mine in this one-page report that looks like a spreadsheet. For instance, there’s a breakdown of how much each state spends on instruction and administration.

It’s also interesting to look at where that money is coming from. Federal sources account for only about 9.5 percent of the money received by public school systems. The other portion is pretty evenly split between state governments (46.7 percent) and local sources (43.8 percent). “Local sources,” of course, include property taxes, which account for 65.2 percent of local funding.

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Survey says moms will get pampered this Mother’s Day

The countdown to Mother’s Day 2011 has begun! We now have less than a week to go, and according to some recent reports, we moms can look forward to an extra spending – er – extra-special day.

A National Retail Federation survey completed in late April predicts that Americans are poised to spend more on Mother’s Day this year than they have in recent years. The chart included with the article shows a very short timeline, but it does have 2011 spending returning to roughly 2007-2008 levels.

And that, mamas, means spending is expected to top $16 billion. That’s a lot of flowers and greeting cards.

Then again, BizReport has an article up about how online shoppers are expected to spend 10 percent more than other retail shoppers. The article notes one-third of shoppers “intend to spend $219.40 on their moms, 10% more than last year.”

Then there’s this: “A new survey from the Mom Complex, the marketing-to-mothers division of the Martin Agency, reports that 30% of moms say they typically get honored for no more than 5 to 10 minutes on Mother’s Day. In fact, 40% feel their husband and children come first on Mother’s Day, and 12% feel they don’t even make the list.”

How’s that for a mixed message?

Personally, the best Mother’s Day gifts I’ve gotten didn’t cost a dime. My first Mother’s Day, my 7-month-old surprised me by sleeping for a full six uninterrupted hours. The next year, she gave me a near-perfect circle she had cut out of construction paper, all by herself. I carried it around with me for weeks and showed it to all my coworkers. It still fills me with pride whenever I look at it.

And last year, my daughter sang this song, to the tune of “O Christmas Tree”: On Mother’s Day, on Mother’s Day/ O how I love you mom/ On Mother’s Day, on Mother’s Day/ O how I love you mom/ You give me joy and happiness/ I give you love, a hug and kiss/ On Mother’s Day, on Mother’s Day/ O how I love you mom.

What’s been your favorite Mother’s Day gift, either given or received?

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Bain buying kids’ clothing store giant Gymboree

Here’s the line in the Wall Street Journal that jumped out at me: “Children’s apparel spending has weathered the recession much better than other clothing categories, in large part because parents will eliminate spending on themselves before they cut back on their kids.”

Yeah, tell me about it. That describes my husband and me, and our approach to spending money on our daughter, to a T. And it especially describes us right now, as we recently celebrated Willow’s 6th birthday – meaning that we, as usual, spent more on birthday presents for her than we probably should have. (Disclaimer: We are normally incredibly thrifty people and I, personally, would rather have a tooth pulled than part with a dollar – but for some reason that totally flies out the window whenever my little girl is involved.)

The line is included in the WSJ’s article about Bain Capital LLC buying Gymboree – the children’s clothing store chain – for a reported $1.8 billion. Gymboree, which has a store in Southgate Mall in Missoula, is part of the children’s apparel special store industry that is seeing a 2.3 percent increase in sales over last year – an eyebrow-raising trend in a recession.

This mom, however, is not at all surprised. In fact, as Halloween continues to creep up on us, I fully expect to see a lot of dazed-looking parents wandering store aisles, filling their carts to the brim with their kids in mind. Parents like my husband and me.

– MM

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