Christine Park

Thursday, August 5, 2010


The National Retail Federation's Back to School survey shows the average American family will spend $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics, up from $548.72 last year. The study goes on to say that more families will buy generic products as well as comparison shop this year.

I don't know about you, but the average sounds awfully high. Especially when you figure the average family has 2.3 children. So the average family's back to school expenses will total $1,394.72!

As the mother of a preschooler and toddler, I have yet to experience the full extravaganza that is the ritual of back to school shopping. But if memory serves me correctly, your kids will beg, plead, and insist, they need all new stuff. Suddenly, last year's Star Wars backpack is not cool enough. And the 64-color box of crayons is mysteriously missing all the primary colors and instead you're left with crayons with names like burnt sienna, raw umber, and thistle.

Before you succumb to your child's every whim, I've compiled a list of shopping tips, tricks, and deals to help you come out ahead in the back to school spending spree.

Take Inventory and Separate the Needs from the Wants: This is something to get your child involved in. Take a look at the list their teacher has sent home, then go over it with your kid. What can be reused or repurposed? Basic school supplies don't need to be trendy. Get stuff that won't go out of style. It will help your child set priorities, learn how to manage money, and start saving his allowance for the items your budget won't allow. Oftentimes... kids will get to school and realize the lunch box or backpack they THOUGHT was going to be cool isn't. It might be a good idea to wait to get the trendier stuff after school starts, so they can check out what their friends have.

Buy Basics in Bulk: You know you'll need paper, pencils, glue sticks and notebooks. Dollar stores, warehouse stores and even eBay are sources for buying these and other basics in bulk. Then set up a supply shelf or storage container in your home that you can use all year long. You'll be able to avoid late-night shopping trips to buy notebook paper when you run out. And you'll know where to find unused notebooks and pencils when it comes time to shop for back-to-school supplies next year.

Consider Buying Used:
Especially when it comes to pricey sports equipment, scientific calculators and musical instruments. Garage sales and eBay are great for this.

Watch for Promotions: The greatest thing about the internet, shopping at your fingertips. And comparison shopping is easier than ever. Scour the Web for sales and especially free shipping. and for example, have specific lists of back to school deals. Be aware, sometimes the deals for a retailer's brick and mortar and online stores are different. The Children's Place recently had a great 30% coupon, but it was in-store only. Also save any circulars advertising great deals -- many stores will match their competitors prices.

Look for Textbook Alternatives: College students have far more choices for buying used textbooks, with such sites as, and Students can also rent textbooks. For example, at, "The Science of Psychology," by Laura King, costs $152.50 to buy new but is $31.94 to rent. Students can also buy cheaper digital versions, to be read online or downloaded, and even buy individual chapters of some books. One source is

Utilize Student Discounts: for things like software or electronics. lists academic software from manufacturers like Microsoft and Adobe. From Apple: any college student, faculty or staff member who buys a Mac gets a free iPod Touch through Sept. 7, 2010.

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