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Even frugal back-to-school shoppers will spend more this year

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Although spending on school supplies this year is expected to increase, experts say there are plenty of deals available and plenty of time to find them. (Source: MGN) Although spending on school supplies this year is expected to increase, experts say there are plenty of deals available and plenty of time to find them. (Source: MGN)
According to data from the National Retail Federation, average spending on back-to-school and back-to-college spending will be up this year. According to data from the National Retail Federation, average spending on back-to-school and back-to-college spending will be up this year.

(RNN) – Start earlier, spend more – that is the motto parents are expected to follow this year when shopping for their children's school supplies.

Combined spending on supplies for K-12 students this year will top $30 billion, and the average parent will spend about $88 more on their children than last year, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Foundation and BIGinsight.

The NRF found that parents are expected to spend $688.62 on their children's school supplies this year. Add that with an expected spending of $907.22 for parents with college students – which usually includes a lot of electronics – and total back-to-school spending this year is expected to reach more than $83 billion.

That makes the weeks before school begins the second-largest consumer spending period for retailers, behind the winter holidays.

But don't look at the rise in spending as a sign of parents' all-out abandonment of the effects of the economy.

School supplies, like food and medicine, are necessities that buyers have to spend money on, no matter how prices and incomes fluctuate.

"The budget-conscious consumer has not forgotten about price, quality or value. We're merely seeing a more savvy shopper," said BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. "There's no questions consumers have become more practical in their shopping, and with school purchases oftentimes considered a necessity, parents have likely been saving and scrimping to be able to fully afford all of their children's needs for the upcoming school year."

But parents don't have to break the bank in order to send their kids back to the classroom with everything they need.

A pair of professional moms has made it their mission to inform parents of ways to cut costs and still grab stylish options on everything from clothes to computers.

"Money Saving Mom," aka Crystal Paine, said the key is to start shopping early. But parents also have to be willing to keep checking back if they're looking for a really good deal.

"You want to go for the loss-leaders that the office supply and department stores dangle, for pennies or dollars on the crayons, paper and pens that all students need," Paine told Reuters. "But you also have to be patient, because the stores don't dole those out all at once. And definitely don't wait to buy college supplies at the university book store."

Nearly one-third of people said they will begin shopping for supplies at least two months before the first day of school for their K-12 or college children, an increase from one-fourth of people who said they would begin shopping during the same period in 2011.

Tara Kuczykowski the "Deal Seeking Mom" recommends looking for deals online and then comparing them to the prices in stores, an especially useful tactic when looking for electronics and clothing.

Both women's websites list current specials at various stores, as well coupons for just about everything.

Whatever your family's plan, be careful about handing dad the shopping list. Men are likely to spend an average of $100 more than women on school supplies, and they typically prefer the convenience of department stores rather than hunting for deals in discount stores.

"When it comes to their children, there's nothing more important to a parent than making sure their children have everything they need, even in a tough economy – and especially when it comes to back-to-school shopping," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "Backpacks rip, pencils break, and children grow, there's no way around it. But as they begin tackling their shopping lists, parents will make sure to spend smarter than they ever have before."

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