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Back-to-school shopping: Tips for saving money this year

Families are expected to spend $687.72 per child

Families are expected to spend $687.72 per child this school year, according to the National Retail Federation. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Joe Scarnici

Back-to-school shopping used to be all about pens, pencils, notebooks and finding that perfect lunchbox.

But now parents and students are filling their shopping carts with everything from cleaning supplies and paper goods to ear buds and reams of copy paper to bring into the classroom.

As lists have gotten longer and more complex, back-to-school shopping has become big business. According to the National Retail Federation, families with elementary through high school students expect to spend on average $687.72 for each child — adding up to a whopping $29.5 billion.

In New York City, many kids leave school in June with report cards, summer assignments and a long list of supplies they need for September.

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THERE IS STILL TIME TO SHOP

Is your back-to-school list still sitting on your refrigerator? Don’t panic. Large stores such as Target and Walmart still have hefty back-to-school displays, while smaller chain drugstores such as Rite-Aid and Walgreens are featuring special sales and other promotions to get you in their doors.

And you’re not alone: NRF’s annual back-to-school survey found that more parents are taking longer to finish school shopping, with the average family with children in grades K-12 completing 45 percent of their shopping by early August, the lowest percentage since 2012.

“Many kids are already getting on the bus and millions more will be back in class in another week or two, so anybody who hasn’t finished shopping by now is cutting it close,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Retailers have some great bargains to offer, but parents better take advantage of them before the school bell rings.”

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TIPS FOR SHOPPING AND SAVING

Before you head out to the store, do your own inventory. Many class lists include items you probably bought last year that are still in good shape — pencil case, scissors, rulers, etc. Chances are at least a few of those eight composition books you bought in September 2016 were barely used.

If you have the time (and energy), comparison shop. The dollar store where every single item is $1 may not always be the best buy when other stores feature notebooks and file folders for half that price.

Have fun! Most kids love the chance to pick out new pencils and supplies for the year. Let them page through store circulars to see who has the hot sales.

But don’t put off shopping for too long. There’s no sadder sight the day before school than empty shelves at your favorite store.

And while you know Staples will probably have most of what you need, do you really want to wait in line with every other procrastinator?

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