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Parents looking for ways to save on back-to-school purchases

Published: Monday, Aug. 19 2013 6:00 a.m. MDT

Nicole Dautel, an incoming 10th grader at Cypress High School, shops for school supplies at Walmart in West Valley on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Ten-year-old Savana Anderson's new backpack has fangs and multi-colored fur and would eat her homework if it were alive. She loves it.

For Savana, back-to-school shopping has little to do with paper-and-pen-type supplies. “I like getting new clothes and a new backpack," she said. "It is boring using the same backpack."

Savana has a new t-shirt for school, too. It says, "My brother belongs in a zoo." It isn't clear which brother she may mean it to refer to — 14-year-old Skyler who is starting 9th grade or 6-year-old Kendrew who is beginning first grade. Celeste, her 15-year-old sister, is a high school sophomore.

Savana’s mother managed to grant her wishes for a new backpack and school clothes, but Kaylene Anderson is spending less this year to outfit her elementary, junior high and high school children. She budgeted about $175 for each of her four children — more than the national per-family average, though the Andersons, like many families, are trying to be as frugal as possible by taking advantage of the back-to-school deals dominating newspaper ads, websites and storefronts this month.

The National Retail Federation expects back-to-school spending on K-12 students to drop 12 percent from a record $26.72 billion in 2012. Families with school-age children are, according to a NRF survey, planning on spending an average of $634.78 on supplies, electronics, clothes, shoes and maybe a few backpacks. That is $53.84 less than last year. Many parents hope to pay less using coupons, the Internet and other strategies to save money.

Shopping cents

Retailers are competing for the money parents will spend on back-to-school shopping by slashing prices and offering deep discounts to lure parents to their stores. Office Depot advertised 1-cent folders. ShopKo offered notebooks at 18 cents and white glue at 38 cents. Walmart had backpacks for $4.88 and Lunchable lunches for $1. Kmart had 10-cent rulers. Rite Aid had 29-cent scissors. Everywhere clothes were discounted with offers like $4.88 shirts and deep discounts on children's underwear.

At the Murray Walmart on Wednesday, Amanda Marsh of Holladay shopped with her four boys ages 9 to 13. The boys followed their mother, who had their schools' required supplies lists in hand, as she searched for bargain items.

Marsh, who says she spends about $1,000 to get her children ready, already had bought new clothes and backpacks for the boys.

"I like them to have a fresh start every year," she says.

Cutting back strategies for clothes

Sara Tetreault, writer of the "Go Gingham Stylishly Frugal Living" blog in Portland, Ore., says she spends a fraction of the back-to-school average on her 16-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl.

"You need to reuse things, buy less stuff and wait until you really need it," she says. "You really need strategies for spending."

Clothing is the most expensive back-to-school category. The NRF survey says 95.3 percent of parents with school-age children will spend an average per-family of $230.85 on clothes and $114.39 on shoes.

To cut back on this expense, Tetreault says the first thing her family does is clean out the closets and go through all the clothes — trying everything on.

"Look at what fits, what doesn't and what fits that the kids will still never wear," she says.

She says it is important to make a list of what clothes the kids need before they go shopping.

"Especially for teen girls," she says. "They are all over the place."

Have them pick out the fashions before they go and make it specific.

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