NEW YORK — Varsity- inspired cardigans. Preppy layers. Satin bomber jackets. There are plenty of fashion trends that experts say should help pique shoppers’ interest for the back-to-school season. That could provide a sales bounce for retailers after last year’s dearth of mainstream looks hurt business. The trick for shoppers: taking advantage of timing and tools to stay within a budget.

In the second most-important season for retailers behind the winter holidays, families with children from kindergarten to 12th grade plan to spend an average of $673.57 on clothing, accessories, electronics, shoes and school supplies. That’s up nearly 7 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation. The group surveyed nearly 7,000 consumers from June 30 through July 6.

Even though that survey showed signs that parents are less worried about the economy, stores are still pushing fat discounts. Some analysts say the back-to-school shopping time had a slow start, with people in no hurry to buy. Last-minute purchasing is a trend retailers have been seeing for back-to-school and the winter holidays for the past several years as mobile phones give shoppers more freedom and options. Political uncertainty is also weighing on them, says Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics LLC.

“Our sense of things is that it’s relatively quiet out there. There’s no buildup,” he said.

He believes that retailers will remain aggressive with discounts. Experts say when planning back-to-school buying, it’s smart to research the new looks and take stock of what’s already in the closet.

“Shoppers certainly have a little more money this year, but they still fundamentally want to be efficient,” said Wendy Liebmann, CEO of the consulting group WSL Strategic Retail.


Here are six ways to save money on back-to-school buying:

Mix new and old items: If a growth spurt doesn’t necessitate buying everything new, focus on a few items and take advantage of help from retailers. J.C. Penney’s online site has a section called “Outfits You Love” that suggests ways to mix eight items to create two weeks of looks. “It’s fashion math,” says Liebmann. “It gives the feeling of lots of choices.”

Do the research: It’s easier than ever to check prices to make sure you’re getting the best deal. One site,, monitors prices on millions of products and sends alerts when prices drop. Apps like RedLaser and PriceJump let shoppers scan an item to see if there’s a better price online.

Time your buying: Back-to-school discounts have already started, but the trick is knowing the best time to grab certain items. For summer clothes like short-sleeve tops, wait until the last week of August and the first week of September to reap the biggest discounts, says Benjamin Glaser, editor of DealNews. For fall clothes, try to buy the first week of October. For jeans, he says to buy later in October for the largest savings..

Bulk buy the basics: Stock up on items like socks and hoodies.

Shop off-price: Discounters like T.J. Maxx, Ross Stores and others are increasingly offering more items in season and are working to better curate them to the local market.

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