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Many parents are planning to spend $500 or more on back-to-school shopping, a new survey says, with general school supplies and clothes at the top of the list. But budget-shopping experts insist that getting ready for the school year doesn't have to cost quite that much.
Related: Back-to-School Sales Start Early
Forty-six percent of consumers surveyed by PriceGrabber in May and June said that they planned to spend more this year than they did last year. Sixty-three percent said they were budgeting up to $500 for school-related gear (up from 48 percent last year), while 20 percent said they had between $500 and $1,000 set aside for back-to-school purchases. Keep reading to see what a shopping expert has to say about this.
"If you're not budget-savvy I could see feeling like you 'had' to spend that," frugal shopping expert Mir Kamin told Yahoo! Shine in an interview. "You really don't!"
One reason the back-to-school budget seems so high is that part of it is allocated for electronics. According to the Pricegrabber survey, 40 percent of respondents said they plan to purchase new laptops or tablet computers for their kids; 28 percent of those high-tech consumers said they were looking to buy some sort of smartphone, and 10 percent had their eye on a new desktop computer.
But classic school supplies like pencils and pens, notebooks, and binders still take up the most room on the must-have list, with 83 percent of those surveyed saying that those items were their main purchases. Luckily for them, some retailers have already swept away their summer stock and rolled out the school supplies.
"I always pick up extras of those sorts of things," says Kamin, who writes about bargains on her shopping site, of WantNot.net. "For one thing, they'll need more halfway through the year (used up or lost). For another, they're great for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes or class donations when the teachers send out a plea."
"The thing to remember is that 'loss leaders' like 10-cent Crayolas and such are there to bring you into the store and make you feel like that overpriced comic-character notebook is a deal because you saved so much on glue and erasers," she adds. "So basically, watch the sales flyers, grab the cheap stuff when it comes up — and grab extra, so you don't need to re-buy halfway through the year — but don't buy the stuff that isn't dirt cheap."
And don't think that you have to stick with big-box and office supply stores, either, she adds. Places like Building 10, Tuesday Morning, Big Lots, and even your local grocery store also have plenty to offer.
If you prefer to shop online — according to the PriceGrabber survey, 79 percent said they plan to shop online, up from 69 percent in 2011 — "Discountschoolsupply.com sometimes has good deals, and even Amazon is worth watching for bulk notebook deals and such," Kamin says.
For things that see daily use, like backpacks and school uniforms, spending a little more on a high-quality product can pay off in the long run. "A good-quality backpack will come with a replacement guarantee, so while I am a huge fan in particular of backpacks from LL Bean and Lands' End, because they will replace with no questions asked, you can also snag clearance deals on those if you're willing to shop off-season," Kamin says. "If it's too late for you to do that, well, at least you know you won't have to buy another one."
When it comes to uniforms, buying in advance doesn't always work because kids grow quickly. "If you can't find great prices, just buy what will get you through the first few weeks of school, because whatever's left over after the rush will be on clearance in short order," advises Kamin. Secondhand shops are a great source for school uniforms, as are stores like TJMaxx and Marshalls, since they often offer a lower prices on last year's styles. (Yes, uniforms have styles, but no, your kid probably won't notice.)
Teenagers may be pickier about their clothes, but those who have to wear uniforms to school can still get a bargain on brand names. "For teens in uniforms, Aeropostale and American Eagle have good sales, too, and that meets their 'trendy' needs," Kamin points out.
And remember: Just because an item is on your child's back-to-school list doesn't mean you have to rush out and buy it brand new. "Give each child a certain amount of money to be used for school supplies, and tell her she can keep whatever is left over," Carolyn Erickson writes at Living on the Cheap. "You'd be surprised at how attractive last year's backpack starts to look."
— Lylah M. Alphonse
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