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cash and kerry

Our blogger goes back to school shopping.Kerry. K. Taylor/The Globe and Mail

I'm wandering around Winners feeling like a loser.

As a money blogger with years of experience writing consumer tips, you'd think I'd be done my daughter's back-to-school shopping by now.

Instead, I'm staring at a wall of picked over children's sneakers, ready to kick myself. I'm just getting started.

A friendly cashier concedes the big back-to-school push was last weekend.

"We were crazy busy," she says. "The place was packed with kids. The lineups were long."

According to a study by the National Retail Federation, an average American family with kids in grades ranging from elementary to high school will spend $630 (U.S.) this year on back-to-school gear like clothing, shoes, electronics, and supplies – a 6 per cent drop from last year.

Since the study didn't divulge how many kids are in an average family, I'm giving the $630 tally (whether that's U.S. or Canadian) a failing grade. For me $630 is a lot of cash to drop before Labour Day, and with an registered education savings plan (RESP) to contribute to and summer camp bills to pay, I'd rather not spend anything on back-to-school this year.

Having spent nothing so far, I'm feeling pretty good. Why do we parents spend so much? Do kids really "need" brand new everything every year? Nope.

Make the second-hand economy your first economy

Thrift stores, Facebook buy-and-sell groups, and local classified sites like are my go-to shops for saving big bucks. Not only am I being a sustainable consumer by not buying into the need to shop new, but I'm saving over 90 per cent by opting for gently used or unused items, often still boasting tags.

My total haul is three new pairs of jeans, five new shirts, two lightly used skirts and one dress for $25. Value Village came through with a brand new pair of Mary Janes for $8. My total clothing tally is $33.

Home inventory first, teachers second, stores third

The biggest student need is often school supplies. Items like binders, scissors, rulers, and backpacks can often be reused, so check around the house first before rebuying stuff you already own.

If your kid's teacher offers to buy class supplies in bulk for a fee, jump at the deal. Many stores offer teachers a discount, and benefiting from the class deal saves you money. I'm paying $15 for this semester's paper, pencils, and craft supplies.

Go refurbished

If your kid really needs a gadget, check for refurbished items online and in-store to save around 15 to 25 per cent. Refurbished electronics are items that have been returned to the manufacturer, usually because the original buyer has changed their mind or due to minor flaws. The item is then repaired and resold at a discount, often with a full manufacturer's warranty.

Get the kids to contribute

If your kid gets cranky about wanting a specific brand or item, get them to pay the difference. During my school days I was expected to contribute a portion of my allowance or cash from a part-time job to cover my clothing and social budget. I grew up respecting money and my purchases more because I understood the value of a dollar – a priceless lesson to learn at a young age.

Wait a week, or three

Skip the hordes of disgruntled kids stuck in long lineups this month by shopping out-of-season. Store deals and retailer discounts are available year-round, so don't feel pressured to spend today when your kid will need stuff tomorrow too.

My total back-to-school spend is $48 – that's less than the price of a brand new pair of sneakers at retail prices. Sure, I'll need to buy my daughter winter gear and additional school supplies later in the school year, but I'll save more by shopping the second-hand economy first, and I could care less about how much others spend.

Now that's how to feel like a winner.

Kerry K. Taylor is a personal finance and consumer expert, the author of 397 Ways To Save Money and the lone blogger at You can follow her on twitter at @squawkfox.

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