Business news from the Fredericksburg region.
Parents look for back-to-school bargains
BY CATHY JETT
When it comes to back-to-school shopping, Spotsylvania County mom Rissa Joos knows how to stretch a dollar.
She snapped up the glue sticks daughter Madeline needs for first grade when they went on sale last month at Walmart. And she stocked up on shoes for Madeline, older daughter Grace and her three younger children at Saxon Shoes’ recent 60-percent-off sale.
“We buy an extra size bigger as well,” said Joos, co-president of The MOMS Club of Spotsylvania—Central. “Come January or February when those shoes don’t fit, we’ll pull out a larger pair.”
Like Joos, most parents and their children start the majority of their back-to-school shopping three weeks to a month before school starts, according to the National Retail Federation.
Some will be taking advantage of Virginia’s tax-free weekend, which runs this Friday through Sunday. It applies to eligible school supply items priced at $20 or less, and eligible articles of clothing and footwear priced at $100 or less.
Joos plans to wait until after the newspaper ads come out on Sunday before taking advantage of the tax break—if she thinks the prices are right. Often it’s cheaper to buy things when they’re on sale than to purchase them during the tax holiday, she said.
Outfitting children with school supplies, shoes and clothing isn’t cheap. The National Retail Federation estimates that parents of children in kindergarten through 12th grade will spend an average of $688.62 during this year’s back-to-school season, which runs from July through early September. That’s up from $603.63 in 2011.
Parents with students in college will spend an average of $907.22 on everything from dorm furniture and collegiate gear to school supplies and personal-care items. That’s up from $808.71 last year, the trade organization found in its annual back-to-school spending trends study.
“Does this mean the economy is coming back? Is this a surefire sign that we’re in the clear? Are consumers out shopping with abandon again?” said Ellen Davis, NRF’s senior vice president, in a press release. “I wish the answers were ‘yes.’”
Instead, she said two factors are propelling the increase. One is that parents who’ve cut back on spending for the last four years due to the recession have to replace or restock clothing, computers and other supplies.
“Second, quite simply, there are more kids going to school this year—and obviously a household with two elementary school students will be spending more than a household with just one,” Davis said.
Parents are still concerned about high unemployment and a slowdown in the overall economic recovery, which is impacting how they are shopping, the study found. Most notably, they’re doing comparison shopping both online and in bricks-and-mortar stores to find the best bargains. And if they decide to buy online—as about 40 percent are expected to do—they want free shipping.
Joos, for instance, bought a backpack and matching lunchbox for Madeline at L.L. Bean’s online clearance sale, and clothing for her and the rest of her siblings online during Old Navy’s 25-percent-off sale. Both retailers shipped the purchases for free.
Discount and department stores, however, continue to be most popular places for back-to-school purchases, according to the NRF, followed by clothing stores and office supply stores. Behind them, in order of preference, will be: online stores, electronics stores, drug stores, thrift/resale shops and catalogs.
Kamlyn Jurgensen, co-editor and publisher of the online newsletter Macaroni Kids Fredericksburg, recommends using the layaway programs that a number of stores, such as Marshalls, now offer. That’s an easy way to take advantage of sales while spreading costs over several weeks “so you don’t have to bust your budget,” she said.
Jurgensen, who lives in Stafford County and whose daughter, Madison, will be a freshman at Colonial Forge High School, also waits until after the back-to-school sales to buy clothes. By then, the sweaters and long-sleeve shirts it has been too hot to wear anyway will be on the clearance rack.
She said she advises moms to take an inventory of what they already have before making their shopping lists, and to buy less clothing than they or their children think are necessary.
“Kids have favorites and they’ll wear them over and over,” Jurgensen said. “I don’t buy a lot of new clothes at one time.”
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407