Tight budgets or not, college students will spend more money on electronics in their back-to-school purchases this year than on apparel and apartment furnishings, underscoring the lofty place PCs, iPhones and other gadgets have taken on students' must-have lists.
Parents of high school, junior high and elementary school students will continue to spend more on apparel than electronics, but they will be upping their total payout for the gadgets by a far greater percentage than they will for new clothes.
| More from MarketWatch.com: |
• Three Ways to Cut College Costs
Five Steps That Will Simplify the College Financial-Aid Process
• The Right Health Insurance for Those in Their 20s
And even then, electronics purchases overall are expected to take a beating along with every other back-to-school category amid an economic downturn that looks like it will spoil the second-most important "holiday" shopping season of the year.
"This is going to be a very, very weak computer back-to-school season," said Britt Beamer, president of America's Research Group. "More and more people who buy computers are watching for the deals and buying less expensive computers everyday."
"If you have to have a computer today you buy what you have to have versus what you'd like to have," he added.
The National Retail Federation, in conjunction with consumer tracking firm BIGresearch, projects that electronics spending will reach $5.1 billion overall in back-to-school spending for students in high school or younger. On average, parents said they will spend about $152 on computers and cell phones, up almost 18% from last year.
College students, on the other hand, said they will pay out about $212 on electronics, about an18% drop from last year. In all, college students are expected to spend $11.05 billion on electronics.
| More from Yahoo! Finance: |
• Starting Salaries for 2008 Grads Show a 7.1% Increase
• The World's Richest Dropouts
• Parents: How to Help Your New College Grads
Visit the College & Education Center
"Though every college student wants the latest-and-greatest gadgets, students are being frugal this year," said Phil Rist, vice president of strategy at BIGresearch. "While some may opt for a cheaper model, many students may take advantage of computer labs at school or a family computer at home instead of investing in one themselves."
College students spend more than others on back-to-school electronics, of course, given the requirements of most universities these days. But spending patterns tend to shift year to year, Rist said, because computers and cell phones are not upgraded or replaced on an annual basis. Consumers will pump up sales when a new product comes on the market, like last year's iPhone, which contributed to college students spending an average of $258 on electronics.
Here are six tips for finding good deals on electronics:
- Shop sales. This is a hot promotional season for electronics sellers and more steamy this year given the tight budgets of many consumers.
- Comparison shop. Get online and compare which stores are offering what bells and whistles on certain models. Do the same with cell phones and service providers.
- Use the Internet. Craigslist and eBay are among the sites to search for used, reconditioned and even new electronics. Many electronics retailers offer special deals only online. And there's no shortage of shopping sites that can point you directly to the brand and price range you want.
- Don't overbuy. Know what you need and stick to it. Other programs and accessories can be added later.
- Haggle. Don't be afraid to ask sales associates for a deal. Many are authorized to give discounts on the floor.
- Time the purchase. Many retailers are more willing to give special deals at the end of the month, when sales may be coming up short, than they are at the top of the month when there's still hope of making sales targets.
Jennifer Waters is a MarketWatch reporter, based in Chicago.