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Alan Prahl column: Back-to-school shopping kicks into high gear

6:56 PM, Jul. 26, 2013  |  Comments
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The back-to-school shopping season is already underway. This is typically the second strongest retail season of the year after Christmas.

What does your household spend on back-to-school? What do you think the average family spends?

The National Retail Federation estimates that the average family with children in grades kindergarten through 12 will spend $603.63 on clothes, supplies and electronics. That includes spending about $220 on clothing, $89 on supplies, and $104 on shoes. The total United States consumer spending will be about 68.8 billion. (www.nrf.com)

With spending like that, it's no surprise that we'll be seeing lots of advertising for back-to-school shopping. Fifty-one percent of families with school aged children said they plan to purchase electronics this year. The average spending on computers, cell phones and tablets will be about $189.

Back-to-college shoppers spend more than K-12 shoppers. College shoppers are expected to spend about $808 this year, compared with $835.73 last year. About 45 percent of these students will be buying electronics, spending an average of $210 on tablets, computers, and mp3 players.

Before you buy, check your existing inventory of clothes, school supplies and electronics. What can still be used or passed down within the family? Can your children step into clothes from relatives or friends?

Compile a list of what you need to buy. Scan the newspaper ads and online to see who is offering the best deals. Buying online is usually faster, but not always a better deal. Buying school supplies at a physical store is cheaper, according to a 2012 study from Stella Service. Their average in-store price for 13 items purchased at major retailers was $31, while the online average for these items was $51. Cost-conscious shoppers know their prices and search for the best deal.

Some savvy shoppers always carry paper or electronic lists of things they need. So, whether they are doing back-to-school shopping, Christmas shopping, or discover a promising garage sale, they are always prepared to take advantage of deals.

Many families use thrift stores and consignment shops to stretch their back-to-school budget. An outfit from one of these stores could cost less than $25, compared with $80 to $100 if purchased new.

Some of you don't have anyone in your household going back to school. What will you do with all of that money that you won't be spending on back-to-school shopping?

Well, as that great philosopher Roseanne Roseannadanna from "Saturday Night Live" said, "It's always something. If it's not one thing, it's another." If it's not the kids going back to school, it's car repairs, medical bills or something else. But, as long as it's the back-to-school shopping season, that means summer isn't over yet. Enjoy it.

- Alan Prahl is with FISC (www.fisc-cccs.org), a nonprofit program of Goodwill North Central Wisconsin. He can be reached at aprahl@fisc-cccs.org.

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