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For Back-to-School Shopping, Recycling is Name of the Game

photo credit: Jens Rost

One of the joys of going back to school for kids is all the new stuff their parents buy to start the new year: clothes, book bags or backpacks and lunch boxes – usually tied to the latest cartoon, toy fad or super hero.

This year, however, many children are going to get a lesson in making do.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), parents went on a record-setting spending binge for 2012 back-to-school goods. This year, however, the grown-ups have discovered that much of what they bought last year is still useable and so they intend to spend less and purchase fewer items.

The NRF’s Back-to-School Survey found that families with school-age children expect to spend an average of $634.78 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, compared to $688.62 last year.

The federation measures consumer behavior and shopping trends. The 2013 back-to-school and back-to-college spending surveys polled 5,635 consumers from July 1-8. The consumer polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.3 percentage points.

“The good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind. Having splurged on their growing children’s needs last year, parents will ask their kids to reuse what they can for the upcoming school season,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement accompanying the report. “As they continue to grapple with the impact of increased payroll taxes, Americans will look to cut corners where they can, but will buy what their kids need. It’s important to note, however, that spending levels are still well above where they were a few years ago.”

Still, the economy is affecting how shoppers buy and they are less inclined to buy items to replace those that still fit or are in good condition. More than 80 percent of those surveyed said they would alter their spending in some way, with 36.6 percent of shoppers saying they would do more comparison shopping online and 18.5 percent planning to shop online more often.

Families also no longer wait until close to the opening of school to shop, with nearly 24 percent shopping now and 49 percent saying they would shop three weeks to a month before school reopens.

Sixty-seven percent of shoppers said they would go to a discount store for school items, but nearly 62 percent of those with teenage children said they will shop at department stores for clothing. Considering the attachment many teens have to malls, there probably is little surprise there and 59.6 percent of parents surveyed said that their teenagers influenced at least half of their back-to-school purchases.

So when your child complains that he will be the only kid at school without a new backpack or lunch box or sneakers, you now have hard-and-fast proof that he will not be alone. In fact , you can say, he is part of a trend. Convince him that he is not only thrifty, but part of an environmentally-friendly movement. He doesn’t need new stuff, just an argument to deflect any teasing that may come his way.

At least that is what I intend to tell my teenage cousin who has moved in with me and will be starting high school in the fall. After all, those with teen sons know that you have to save as much money as possible just to feed them.

Groceries trump a new pair of Jordans every time.

Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”

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