Buying a few pencils and notebooks for your school-age children
won't put a big dent in your budget. But throw in backpacks,
electronics, new clothes and more, and the cost of a back-to-school
shopping trip quickly adds up. In fact, the average family is
expected to spend $606 this year on these items, according to the
National Retail Federation. That amount tops last year's -- $549 --
even though many Americans say
they're struggling financially
There are ways to keep back-to-school costs from spiraling out
of control. The tips below will help.
1. Take inventory of what your kids have.
Don't assume that your kids have outgrown all their clothes and
need a new wardrobe. Take the time to make them try on what is in
their closet and drawers to figure out which clothing items they
really need. Then plan on buying items that can easily be mixed and
2. Set a budget.
Let your children know how much they can spend so they buy only
what they need. You can motivate them to keep spending under
control by telling them they can keep any cash they don't
3. Share the cost.
Ask children who receive an allowance or who have money from a
summer job to chip in -- especially if they want to buy more than
your budget allows. If kids are expected to help pay for
back-to-school items, they'll be more price-conscious.
4. Time your shopping right.
Retailers offer some of the year's lowest prices on pens, pencils
and notebooks in August. For clothing, you'll find sales on Labor
5.Take advantage of sales-tax holidays.
Sixteen states exempt various back-to-school items from sales taxes
on certain days. If you're buying big-ticket items, you might
consider crossing state lines to get the tax break if your state
doesn't have a tax holiday. See
to find out if and when your state has a tax holiday.
6. Check for student discounts.
Some stores, such as Apple, offer discounts just for students. All
it asks for is your name and school you are attending.
7. Sign up for e-mail or Twitter alerts
from back-to-school retailers to know when their items go on
8. Buy used.
Textbooks are cheaper used (and even cheaper when you rent them).
How to Cut Your Textbook Costs in Half -- or
for Web sites that will help you get a deal on books. Also consider
buying items such as computers refurbished rather than new.
9. Shop online.
You may be more tempted to overspend when shopping in a mall, where
you're surrounded by so many options, tempting displays and impulse
buys in the checkout aisle. If you shop online, you can give your
kids a choice of just a couple of retailers that have coupon
codes-- which you can get from sites such as
-- and free-shipping offers (see
10. Buy items in bulk
to take advantage of larger discount coupons that give bigger
savings for spending more. Places such as Staples offer bulk
discounts and free shipping.
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