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Getting Ready for School in a Tight Economy

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Getting Ready for School in a Tight Economy

There’s no denying that the economy is having an effect on plans for back-to-school spending.

According to a recent report from the National Retail Federation, the average family is expected to spend 7.7 percent less this year for back-to-school purchases. On average, families with K-12 students will spend $548.72 on merchandise to begin the 2009-2010 school year, compared with spending $594.24 for school year 2008-2009. Overall, this year’s back-to-school spending is estimated to total $17.42 billion.

Here are a few ideas designed to help you get the biggest bang with fewer back-to-school bucks.

Make a Plan

First of all, develop a shopping list and a strategy. What would you like to purchase this year? What do you need to purchase this year? How do the two lists overlap? Is any trimming necessary?

Next — and most importantly — set a budget. Make certain it’s a realistic budget that can include all of the items on your list. Try not to overspend before school starts. There are plenty of unexpected expenses that are likely to crop up in the early months of the new school year.

Where to Shop

Discount stores, office supply superstores, online stores, and other retail outlets offer a variety of ways to stretch your school-bound spending.

According to the National Retail Federation, discount stores will be the preferred spending stop. Drugstores, however, will see a sizeable increase in back-to-school sales with 21.5 percent of families shopping there, an increase of 18 percent from 2008.

Keep an eye out for sales flyers for all of your area stores, especially the larger chain stores. Match the flyers and the prices to your shopping list and budget. Don’t let the flyers create a new — and even bigger — shopping list for you.

Note that some of the office superstores offer in-store specials or free shipping on Internet orders.

Online stores continue to offer new and innovative ways to explore the back-to-school market. Special pricing for lunchboxes, school uniforms, educational software, and electronics are just some of the bargains to be found online. provides access to what it claims is the largest online selection of new lunch boxes for children and adults. The entire inventory can be accessed by type (metal, plastic, insulated, thermoses, and accessories) or by use (school, work, or play). A Lunchbox Extras section provides access to a Girl Zone, Boy Zone, What’s New, Summertime, and The Lunch Room. The site features a banner proclaiming that the lunchboxes are tested to be lead safe. The lunchbox selections available when this article was written covered a variety of interests — from the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team to Kill Bill, Lord of the Rings, Snoopy, and even Junior Mints. The prices were reasonable; a $6.95 flat rate for U.S. shipping applies.

The best prices on school uniforms can be found in the month of July. This is part of a conscious effort to stem the flood of last-minute uniform shopping that always occurs at the start of a new school year. July is also the best time to find uniforms in hard-to-fit sizes, since these are available in small quantities that tend to sell out first.

The school uniform shop at is offering many uniform pieces at 40% off while they last. As this article was written, Old Navy — online at — was offering free shipping with uniform purchases. Check your favorite web site to see what special offers you may be able to find.

A uniform-focused school may schedule days when students can dress out of uniform. Check with school administrators to find out if any special school clothing such as school logo t-shirts and sweatshirts can be worn. These items may be sold by the school’s P.T.A. or other fundraising organization; school staff members can tell you where they can be purchased. The staffers may even be able to tell you when these items will be on sale.

All is not quiet on the spending front, however. One area of back-to-school spending is slated to see an increase this year — electronics, including computer equipment and other items. This area is expected grow 11 percent over last year, or an average of $167.84 per family.

You can stretch your technology dollars a long way with a stop at online software and hardware retailers that offer special education discounts, such as and These sites offer substantial discounts to students with the appropriate student identification. When this article was written, deeply discounted products on these sites included Microsoft Office Professional 2007, Adobe Acrobat 9 Professional, a VisTablet Graphics Tablet (12 x 10), and more.

Get Results

You can do more shopping with less money, even for back-to-school purchases. Simply do your research, make your plan, and keep yourself on track.

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