It’s an annual pilgrimage, second only to the winter holidays, which has become ingrained in retailers’ balance sheets. As this year’s back-to-school season kicks into high gear this month, analysts are predicting results that are no better than last year’s, but department stores can expect a good deal of traffic.

Parents will focus on smart spending and frugality before agreeing to any purchases this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2011 Back-to-School survey. The survey, conducted by BIGresearch in early July, shows that families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $603.63 on apparel, school supplies and electronics, within a few dollars of last year’s $606.40 average.

Total spending on grades K-12 is expected to reach $22.8 billion. Combined K-12 and college spending will reach $68.8 billion, serving as the second biggest consumer spending event for retailers behind the winter holidays.

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