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Procrastination pays when it comes to back-to-school shopping
Back to school doesn't automatically mean back to the mall. Thoughtful shopping can save on all sorts of items. - photo by Jeff Wuorio
Chances are your kids are back at school. If you haven't finished their back-to-school shopping, you're not alone.

And it may prove to be a savvy financial move to boot.

The National Retail Federation reports families spend $68 billion a year on back to school supplies for everyone from kindergarten up to college. That's an average of some $630 per family.

But, even though it's September, for most parents there's plenty of shopping left to be done. As of August, 63 percent of shoppers in a survey by Market Track, a Chicago advertising and pricing concern, said they had yet to wrap up their back-to-school buying.

They could cash in on their procrastination with savings on items that were priced for high demand in late summer and are now marked down to clear out the excess inventory. And if youve already done your shopping, save these ideas for next year.

Focus on basics

Back-to-school shopping isnt just a matter of necessities. Peer pressure can also play a powerful role, something for parents to consider when drawing up a shopping list.

I cannot begin to tell you how many overly empowered and entitled kids are already demanding a Zuca briefcase or backpack on rollers because their classmate has one and it's the latest and greatest, said Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills, California, relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. The only real essentials to buy your child during back to school season are pencils, pens, sharpener, paper and folders.

Add to that a recommended list of supplies from your child's teacher.

Another cost-cutting move is to use leftover school supplies from last year to hold you over until retailers post clearance prices to make room for the next shopping event.

If you have plenty of pens, pencils, paper, notebooks and folders left over from last year, hold off on purchasing school supplies until September, when retailers want to move on from back-to-school to jump right into holiday merchandise, said Kendal Perez, savings expert with You'll find essential supplies on clearance, which you can stock up on for this year and next.

Look the part

Next up is clothes, yet another topic where the latest fashions can prompt relentless lobbying. Even when new clothes are necessary, that doesnt mean they couldn't be purchased in October, Perez said.

It's during this time that retailers take stock of denim styles that didn't sell in August and September and discount them to move inventory, said Perez.

The same logic holds true for shoes and other clothing geared for the cooler days of autumn. Once the thermometer does begin to drop, so do fall clothes prices.

While many of us are ready for fall, consumers shouldn't splurge on fall fashion until late September and October, when they've been on shelves for a couple months, sais Perez. Winter apparel starts hitting new arrivals racks and retailers discount fall garments to make room.

Computers and gadgets

Parents who yearn for the days when high-tech meant a modestly priced calculator from Radio Shack may find the topic of electronics particularly painful and confusing.

On one hand, retailers hawking laptops, phones and other equipment often slash prices in late summer to attract school-minded shoppers: Next to Black Friday, now is the best time of year to buy a new laptop thanks to back-to-school sales, with computers going for 8 to 25 percent under their usual prices, said Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor at DealNews. PC laptops with 15-inch displays and current-gen Intel processors can go for around $350.

The best deal you can get? Not necessarily, say other experts who contend that even lower prices await shoppers who can keep their cash in their pockets for a month or two.

Back-to-school is a big season for laptops, desktops and tablets, and if your student is in need of one of these gadgets for class, it's a good time to find one at a discount, said Perez. However, it's not the best time these electronics see better deals during (Thanksgiving's) Black Friday weekend. If your child is in need of an upgrade or won't need a gadget until next semester, hold off for better offers in November.

In particular, noted Glaser, Apple traditionally unveils new iPhones in September and iPads in October, and older versions are generally discounted to make way for the up to date models.

Save on college costs

College students and their families know the school shopping tradition doesn't stop for college.

Dorm room furnishings are at the top of many college kids lists. The most prudent advice: Wait until youre physically in your dorm room. As Glaser pointed out, website photos and room floor plans may offer a rough idea of what a room can hold, but a firsthand inspection is essential: Things can feel different once you actually get into the space. It's best to actually spend some time in your new home before investing in pricey furnishings that may not even fit.

That wait may also pay off financially. Though we see great deals on 32-inch (TV) sets through Labor Day, the best TV deals of the year are just around the corner at Black Friday.

The same holds true for a bicycle a cost-effective and healthy way to get around campus. Wait at least until the end of September, urged Perez, and, if possible, even later when winter starts to take hold. Those college students hoping to invest in a new bike to get around campus will see better deals in December, when biking isn't as popular and bike shops are in need of a sales boost, she said.

The issue of new clothes for college may mandates delicate advice. While new fashions can cost less later into the fall, theres another reason to hold off: Autumn and winter apparel won't go on sale until a few more months into the season, which will give students' waistlines time to adjust to their new surroundings, said Glaser. The freshman 15 is real.