Kids don't always get excited about going back to school after a fun summer without homework or teachers' dirty looks. But what might catch their attention is the opportunity to buy new school supplies and clothes -- everyone loves having a shiny lunchbox and sweet kicks for the first day of school. Finding the perfect folder that matches the pencil case can cause any kid to jump with exuberance. But that same enthusiasm might not be shared by parents when they get the final bill.
According to the National Retail Federation, the average person with children in grades K-12 spent $688.62 on back-to-school shopping for the 2012 academic year. This is up from $603.63 in 2011. Parents will spend an average of $246 on clothes and a bit more than $200 on electronics, while investing about $95 on school supplies.
Back to school time doesn't have to break the piggybank. Here are some questions to ask when outfitting your kids.
--What are the priorities? Make a list to determine what are the "must haves" for your kids. Shoes with no soles take priority over a new backpack just because your daughter's favorite color has changed from last year. Take care of the immediate needs right away, and budget to buy the other items on the list at a later time.
--Can I shop online? The National Retail Federation's survey found that almost 40 percent of people will check out deals on the Internet. Online shopping offers you the ability to peruse a variety of retailers from the comfort of your living room. You are also more likely to only purchase what you need and not be distracted by impulse buys when online shopping.
--Are there sales? School supplies and clothing often get marked down when retailers start to bring in the holiday items -- they need more room for Christmas trees in September. It's also a good idea to watch for sales throughout the year; stock up on items you know your kids will use each year, like pencils, rulers and binders.
"As the economy continues to play a role in Americans' spending decisions, retailers will offer shoppers plenty of ways to save money both in their stores and on their websites, including bundles, free gifts and gift cards with their purchase, and even free online shipping on school items, aiming to attract value-focused back-to-college shoppers," says National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay.
--Do we have items around the house? Checking your office desk and junk drawer can produce unused pens, pencils, highlighters and other school supplies that you would have had to purchase. Instead of throwing away last year's barely used notebook, keep it, and reuse it this year.
--Can we host a swap meet? Get your neighbors and friends together to hold a clothing swap meet. Encourage families to bring slightly used clothing of all sizes, and mix and match from everyone's pile. This gives your kids a "new" wardrobe while helping you stay on budget.