Running the Numbers: The Cost of Back-to-School Shopping This Year

Running the Numbers: The Cost of Back-to-School Shopping This Year

Starting off the school year means spending a hectic afternoon hitting up Staples for packs of unsharpened pencils, heading to the mall for brand new jeans and picking out a lunchbox stamped with the cartoon character du jour at the grocery store. Or does it?

The slow economic recovery and easy access to online deals is causing more and more parents to skip the one-day spending session in favor of a more spread out approach to back-to-school shopping. But does this tactic help families save money? According to data released this week, the answer is no.


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The National Retail Federation predicts that families will spend an average of $670 on back-to-school shopping (including clothes, school supplies and electronics), up 5% from last year. Total spending on back-to-school-shopping is predicted to reach nearly $75 billion, 3% higher than last year.

Some parents' strategy is to purchase staple supplies online and then pick up any additional items in brick-and-mortar stores throughout the next few months. The idea is to save money by waiting for discounts after the start of the school year. But the plan may ultimately backfire, since it's likely that families will spend more in total, according to Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economics Advisors.

The good news is, whether you're buying crayons or iPads, there are ways to save.

When it comes to classroom materials, bigger stores like Walmart and Staples will likely offer the best deals, available in late July and early August. As for technology, resellers like Amazon and Best Buy often have deals on big-brand computers and tablets.

Other top tips include sticking closely to the list provided by your child's teacher and scoping out your local dollar store for supplies like scissors and pencil boxes. Feeling especially motivated? Take a tip from these real moms and dads and host a back-to-school clothing swap.


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