Retailers and Consumers Ready for Back-to-School Shopping

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 about their plans.

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 seven 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...

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