Back-to-school sales> are already in full swing, but shoppers hunting for bargains this year face the challenges of bigger bills and reduced store inventory.
The average family will spend $606 on clothes, shoes, school supplies and electronics, according to the National Retail Foundation. That s up 10.5% from last year s average $549, and just slightly above the pre-recession spending of $594 in 2008.
Consumers may be spending more, but it s not because they are more confident about the economy or their own finances, says Alison Paul, a vice chairman and the U.S. retail sector leader for market research firm Deloitte. Many families who passed on buying new clothing or upgrading computers last year are -- reluctantly -- doing so this year. They re feeling really out of date, she says. Others anticipate spending more on classroom items such as paper towels, hand sanitizer and printer paper to supplement the budget-strapped school s supply closet.
Here s how to keep back-to-school bills in check:
Back-to-school shopping is only the first round of expenses consumers face during the fall. There are all sorts of things, once they re in school, that you ll be asked to pay for, says certified financial planner Mari Adam of Adam Financial Associates in Boca Raton, Fla. Faced with budget cuts, many schools now charge for things such as sports, lab experiments and field trips. Consumers should factor those into their budgets and keep in mind that the holiday shopping season is just months away, she says.
Twice as many retailers are offering Back to School sales this year compared with last year, says Dan de Grandpre, the founder of DealNews.com, a sale-tracking site. Shoppers should browse the circulars and use price-comparison sites online so they'll be able to recognize a standout price. Consumers should also weigh price versus availability.
Retailers facing reduced consumer spending have cut back the number of items they carry. That doesn't mean shoppers must buy an item in demand at full-price. Mid-market department stores including Macy s, J.C. Penney, Target and Kohl s have big sales on a weekly basis. You can go shopping almost any weekend, or even weekday, and get a good sale, says Marianne Bickle, the director for the Center of Retailing at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. At more upscale and designer stores, where sales are few and far between and inventory is more limited, buy it when you see it, she says.
Take advantage of sales tax holidays
This summer, 17 states will waive their sales tax for a few days. Depending on the state, these tax holidays offer an extra 4% to 7% discount.
Consumers can find retail deals beyond the sales. Some retailers will have an extra 10%, an extra 15% discount on top of that if you bring in a coupon, Bickle says. Check for coupons in newspaper sales circulars and at the retailer s site.
Wait to buy school supplies
Hold off until the school sends out its list of requirements to avoid buying incorrect or unnecessary items. Some teachers are very picky, Adam says.