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(Lisa Thornberg)
(Lisa Thornberg)

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Parents getting smarter about back-to-school shopping Add to ...

When I raised the subject of back-to-school shopping with some friends over the weekend, there was a collective groan. One mom of three complained about how much it had cost to outfit her six-year-old son with new school clothes. Another told of a recent cross-border shopping trip to find the best prices on back-to-school supplies and gear. Even the thriftiest among us are prepared to spend this September, although we may be dreading it. Back-to-school season is a non-negotiable cost of raising children, as shoes are outgrown and clothes worn through quickly. But we are getting smarter about how and where we shop.

In the U.S., the average family will spend $550 on clothing, shoes and school supplies, according to the August, 2010, American Express Spending & Saving Tracker. However, the majority said they have a set budget and 94 per cent of all parents said they will look for ways to be resourceful and to stretch their dollars. Many will cut costs by shopping for clearance or sale merchandise, clipping coupons and watching for store promotions.

A recent survey by Deloitte found 58 per cent of respondents planning to change the way they shop for back-to-school season due to "economic concerns." These parents said that they would buy more on sale, look for more lower-priced items and use more store coupons.

Many Canadian families are heading online to save on back-to-school costs. The average parent plans to spend an average of $621 online and in-store between now and Labour Day, according to a recent survey of online shoppers by Visa Canada. Of those, 48 per cent are turning to online stores for better prices and 53 per cent are seeking better sales and promotions. Books and clothing are the most popular areas for online back-to-school shopping, followed by health and beauty products, travel, and computer and software-related purchases.

The overall retail message of this back-to-school season appears to be that while parents will spend to gear their kids for school, they're still embracing the frugal habits picked up during the recession. Making sure we get the best prices and value for our money is going to be our top priority.

For ideas on how to keep your back-to-school budget in check, read today's personal finance tips.

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