When Is the Best time for Back-to-School Shopping?

School season is not far away, and consumers are preparing for their annual back-to-school shopping trips. Although shoppers plan to spend about the same amount as they did last year, they are waiting to start shopping till later than they did in 2010, according to a recent survey.

The NPD Group recently released its "Annual Back-To-School Spending Intentions Report," which surveyed 12,000 members of its consumer panel. The report found 40% of back-to-school shoppers plan to spend the same amount of money they did in 2010. However 35% said they plan to start shopping by Aug. 1, down 3% from 2010. More said they plan to start shopping by Sept. 1 (60%), up from 57% last year.

The bulk of respondents' budgets will be spent on school supplies, at 77%, followed by apparel at 58% and footwear at 45%.

Julia Scott, CEO and blogger at BargainBabe.com, said waiting to spend on back-to-school necessities is a smart move. The season is jam-packed with deals and stores become increasingly competitive with their offers as school begins in late August and early September.

"Retailers become even more desperate to get your business, and the selection can be just as good," Scott said. "However, for school supplies, it can be savvy to shop now."

Many office supply stories including Staples, Office Max and Office Depot offer weekly deals with extremely low prices on supplies, Scott said. Dropping in at the beginning of their weekly cycle on a Sunday and stocking up on that week's deal will save you money in the long runand up your budget for other items like clothes and electronics, she said.

"Some of the deals are really amazing," Scott said. "I'd advise people to sign up for weekly e-mails and flyers, and try to make a Sunday stop at the local office supply store. Little by little, you can get all your supplies for about $10."

Many stores are offering backpack deals, which give consumers a bag that retails for about $30, for $10, with an additional purchase, Scott said. But waiting on clothes may be a smart move for parents, especially with finicky kids.

"Depending on how old your kids are, they are probably attuned to what is fashionable," she said. "They may not even know what they want till the first week of school, when they see what other kids are wearing."

The fact that shoppers are planning to start spending nearly a month later this year is not necessarily a negative, Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group, Inc., said in a release. It just means they will be searching for lower-priced options rather than running out to shop right away.

"The consumer is holding on, but it is an indication that consumers remain cautious about their spending," Cohen said.

Consumer motivation is based more on value in 2011 (82%) than it was in 2010 (79%), the survey found. Purchases will be made most often because they are required (45%) and/or need to be replaced (30%), and less often because a child wants it (22%).

Things that are trendy and fashionable will be purchased by 12%, and only 2% of purchases will be influenced by friends this year, respondents said.

"Here we have a clear sign that 'trendy and fashionable' or 'influenced by friends' is shrinking and 'value is gaining momentum, Cohen said. "And just when you think that value can't get any more important, consumers tell us that value is what they are looking for. What's more, their idea of what 'value' is continues to evolve. Today's consumer value equation is the combination of price, quality and name brands they trust."