Kids headed back to school? We're here to help!

NEED TO KNOW
  • Consumer Reports ranks best backpacks for kids of all sizes
  • Best deals on clothes emerge about third week of September
Kids headed back to school? We're here to help!

The second-biggest shopping season of the year is already in full swing and the National Retail Federation projects consumers will spend a total of about $83.8 billion for back-to-school shopping this year.

According to the NRF’s 2012 Back-to-School spending survey conducted with BIGinsight, the average parent with kids in grades K-12 will spend about $688.62 on their children, up from $603.63 last year. The jump in spending for college students is even higher, with the total back to college shopping receipt reaching $907.22, up from $808.71 in 2011. That includes things like dorm furniture, collegiate gear, school supplies and personal care items.

Here’s the thing: Even though more spending is expected this year, compared to a year ago, for a lot of parents, that type of spending isn’t realistic. But if you stick to a budget and allow yourself enough time, you don’t have to spend nearly that much.

Consumer Reports' 11 tips for saving money on school supplies

Backpacks

Stores are overflowing with backpacks of all shapes and sizes, but your child’s favorite color shouldn’t necessarily be the deciding factor when it comes to a new backpack. Consumer Reports reviewed data from the American Occupational Therapy Association and found that a heavy backpack that’s worn incorrectly can actually cause low-back pain that lasts into adulthood.

So parents need to find a well-fitting backpack for each child. Consumer Reports put together a guide to help parents find the best-fitting backpacks for their kids that explains what to look for and the important factors when choosing a pack.

Consumer Reports also put a variety of backpacks to the test in order to find the best packs based on performance, reliability, safety issues, price and other factors. Based on its testing, CR found the best backpack for heights 4’ to 4’9” is the Lucky Bums Dragonfly 15, which costs about $45. Coming in second for that group is the Kelty Grommet Junior, which only costs about $30.

For kids heights 4’10” to 5’8” Consumer Reports suggests the JanSport Big Student TDN7, which costs about $40. And for kids heights 5’9” and up, the best-rated backpack is The North Face Jester, which is only about $55. And this one should last a while since it’s very durable and great for any kids who may continue growing.

Once you’ve found the right backpack, or at least the style that’s right for your kids, try looking for coupon codes online to get a better deal. Sites like RetailMeNot and CouponCabin are great for finding online deals. CouponCabin even has a specific back-to-school Coupons & Deals page.

Cellphones for kids

A recent survey from the National Consumers League found that most parents of kids between the ages of 8 and 12 are getting cellphones for them. Giving your kid a cellphone means giving them a lot of responsibility, but it's also a way to help keep them safe. But you don’t need to break the bank to do it.

Parents who are considering giving their kids a cellphone should know that there are some cheap options out there. One good one is called Kajeet, which describes itself as "the cellphone for kids." Kajeet has parental control options and HLN Money Expert Clark Howard says his favorite plan available from Kajeet costs only $14.99 a month.

The plan includes unlimited texting and 60 minutes of calling per month. The kids can text their friends all they want and have enough minutes to call you and check in!

The cheapest phone model is $34.99 and one great feature a lot of parents will love is the GPS locator that costs only 99 cents a month.

Clothing

Clark says when it comes to buying back-to-school clothes, delaying your purchases will lead to better deals. So don't rush to get your kids a new wardrobe. The best deals usually start about three weeks after school begins, or around the third week of September. So if you can hold out, you should be able to find some great bargains on back-to-school clothes.

More back-to-school bargains

Another thing to note about buying new back-to-school clothes is that many parents will spend too much on things kids already have. So Bankrate.com talked to Nina Restieri, founder of momAgenda.com and an organizational expert, about preparing for back-to-school shopping.

Restieri says first check out what your kids already have stacked up in their closets. Some never-before-worn clothes from last year may be hidden in the back and some things may be just fine to keep another year. Keep track of what fits and what doesn’t, so you know what, and how many, you really need to buy. Then consider donating all the clothing your kids don’t keep to charity. Then it’s back to school with clean closets and real savings.

All of the big retailers have tons of back-to-school specials going on. Check them out online before heading to the store. Online deal aggregator Dealnews also has an overall guide to back-to-school savings.

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