Back-to-school shoppers are looking for bargains, and University of Maine Cooperative Extension officials have some tips on getting the most for their money.

“They’re going to be making their purchase at those stores that offer good values,” economist Jim McConnon of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension said.

National surveys show four out of five American shoppers plan to spend 8 percent less than last year, McConnon said. “Folks are continuing the trend of looking at their budget closely and narrowing the definition of necessary spending.”

Retailers are doing what they did last Christmas, slashing prices and advertising those deals, promoting coupons as incentives for shoppers to buy, and offering discounts for multiple products, McConnon said.

Shoppers should use those deals to their advantage, said Jane Conroy, Cooperative Extension educator in the Piscataquis County office.

Be savvy. Arm yourself with those fliers in Sunday’s paper. Research the deals. If you’re shopping at one store but there’s a better price at another, “ask ‘Can you match this?’ Some stores do as part of their policy,” McConnon said.

Before going back-to-school shopping, it’s critical to do your homework, Conroy said. And any money you do save, save it; don’t spend it somewhere else, she said. With many jobs still unstable, it’s important to have money in a savings account.

Other Conroy savvy-shopping tips:

• Plan before you go. Always leave with a budget, a dollar figure, in mind.

• Don’t go until you’ve made a list.

• Before making that list, take an inventory. “From the pencils in your supply cabinet to clothes in the closet, look to see what you already have,” Conroy said. You may discover you have to buy less.

• Check with the school or teacher to find out what supplies are necessary. Again, you may need less than you thought.
“Parents shouldn’t need to spend a whole lot,” said Lewiston’s Montello Elementary School Principal Deb Godard. “We provide pencils, crayons and all that stuff.  . . . Other than a backpack, students don’t really need much, just a folder.”

• If money’s tight, skip shopping and do a clothes swap. Link with other parents and ask about swapping clothes. (Growing up, we did this all the time.) Or suggest to your school’s PTO or church about holding a clothes swap.

• Instead of buying a lot of clothes, limit purchases to one new outfit for special dress-up days and subsidize the wardrobe with a few new tops, jeans or skirts to mix and match.

• Talk to your kids about how much the family can afford. It’s nice to have everything new, but not necessary, Conroy said. “You need to guide your children.” If a student already has three or four pairs of jeans, that may be enough.

• Set a budget for your children. Conroys daughters had a limited amount to spend and had to prioritize and track their spending. Involving children in spending empowers and teaches them, “and it can take the pressure off the parents.”

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