Back-to-School Shoppers to Scale Back this Year

It might be the middle of sweltering summer, but a new school year is right around the corner and supplies are already filling store shelves, but families are expected to cut back on their back-to-school shopping this year.

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According to the National Retail Federation, the average American family will spend nearly 8% less this school season than they did in 2012, spending an average total of $635, compared to last year’s $689. The NRF estimates total back-to-to school spending, which includes apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics to be around$26.7 billion.

Last year was an exceptionally-high year for back-to-school spending, says NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay, but he still predicts 2013 sales to be strong.

“The total spending consumers are doing shows they are down, but clearly not out,” he says. “For the last three years, consumers have carried the economy. Retail and consumers spending are the only growth we have seen steadily.”

Many consumers will save money by shopping earlier and online. Some parents also plan to have their students re-use items before shelling out for new clothes and supplies, the NRF says.

“For some families, there is not a need to splurge every year; they may have stocked up last year and not need to necessarily have everything new for each child, each year,” Shay says. “Nearly half of Americans say in the last six months they have focused more on needs rather than wants.”

College students will also be cutting back with their back-to-school spending, with the average college student and family spending $837 on supplies, compared to $907 in 2012, according to the NRF. But the costs of college essentials have increased in 2013, according to Houston Asset Management’s Cost of Learning Index. The index tracks popular college student purchases and incidentals.

The average tuition in four-year colleges increased by 3.8%, the survey says. College Board reports a public four-year out of state school is $30,911 for this year, compared to $17,860 for a four-year, in-state public school tuition.

A small dorm refrigerator increased in cost by 11.08%, reports Houston Asset Management, while Pizza Hut’s large pepperoni pizza costs 18.09% more than last year without coupons.

Here are some tips for both college students and parents of children heading back to school on where to cut costs, from consumer expert Andrea Woroch:

No. 1: Consider holding a swap. Parents can save big by swapping clothes, un-used school supplies and sporting goods amongt themselves before their child heads back to school.  “Set up a swap in your community, and consider making rules that each parent has to bring three things to exchange,” she says. “This ensures everyone is saving money.”

No. 2: Consider buying used. This tip especially goes for parents of younger children during back-to-school season, says Woroch.  “Buy secondhand for your kids, they grow out of clothes so quickly.”

Sites like sell used clothes for babies and elementary-school aged kids. Parents can also sell their own items on the site to offset costs.

Woroch also suggests buying refurbished tech items. “Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and AT&T (NYSE: ATT) sell these items refurbished, which often means a consumer had buyer’s remorse after purchasing, and it’s not necessarily used. You are looking at huge savings, and get a warranty.”

No. 3: Shop at home. This tip goes for parents and even college students, Woroch says. “Make a list and take inventory at home before heading to the store. You are often forgetting you have supplies you may not have used since last year that are perfectly good at home. This reduces what you have to buy new.”

No. 4: Find tax-free holidays. Visit to see if your state offers a tax-free holiday leading up to the new school year, Woroch says. “These save you a ton of money, especially on big-ticket purchases like computers.”

No. 5: Rent textbooks. This one is especially for college students, Woroch says, as renting allows you to take up to 80% off the price of your textbooks.

“When you buy books and resell them you still won’t get that money back,” she says.

No. 5: When buying supplies, purchase online. After seeing which supplies you really need, shop for them online, Woroch suggests.

“This goes especially for ink purchases,” she says.