Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Back-to-school shopping: Three business story angles

August 9, 2017

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The National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend nearly $5 million on school supplies this year. (“Colored pencils” image via Pexels user Pixabay CC0 License)

Students are heading back to school within the next month, and local business story angles abound. Here’s are several options to consider.

Tax-free weekends and other incentives

As consumer confidence improves, the National Retail Federation predicts that total spending for school and college will reach $83.6 billion this year. That’s an increase of more than 10 percent from last year’s $75.8 billion. The number includes clothing, school supplies and electronics.

Over a dozen states have announced sales-tax-free weekends in July or August. If yours is among them, readers will obviously be interested in the date of the event and what items will be tax-exempt. But there’s more to the topic than consumer savings. How does a state offset losses from a tax-free weekend? Are the uncaptured taxes tied to specific budget areas? What types of retailers are most likely to profit from a tax-free weekend?

Giant sales events such as tax-free promotions can be overwhelming to kids with sensory processing issues such as autism. Some retailers, including J.C. Penny, offer autism-friendly shopping events with fewer stimuli. Profile retailers in your area offering similar events.

What goes into school fundraisers?

Once kids head back to the classroom, fundraisers for school arts programs, sports teams and other causes are likely to follow. That’s especially true as school districts cope with funding cuts. What are local schools and school clubs doing to raise money? Are they partnering with for-profit companies that facilitate these fundraising campaigns? What portion of each popcorn tub or candy bar sold actually goes to support the school, versus the costs of running the program?

After helping kids sell a zillion rolls of wrapping paper or being hit up by neighbors or coworkers, readers may experience fundraising fatigue. A story on the etiquette of school fundraisers should be of interest.

College students and credit cards

As soon as college students and their parents arrive on campus, they’re likely to be bombarded with solicitations for credit and debit cards. The card carrying a college’s logo may seem the obvious choice, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau cautions that some carry hefty fees. The CFPB’s analysis found that overdraft fees alone can cost $35 per incident. Busy college students who aren’t accustomed to balancing a checkbook may not realize how quickly fees can accumulate.

An explainer on choosing a bank or credit union, and analysis on options for college students in your area could help families make an informed decision. Perhaps a local finance professor or financial planner could explain different fees and how incoming students can avoid them.

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