With a son starting high school this year and a daughter in college, Janet Duffy looks for ways to save on back-to-school clothes and supplies.
I try to have a budget, and I try to delay some of my purchases until later on, said Duffy, while shopping last week in the Warner Robins Target with her son, Garrentt Duffy, 14.
We look for more sales, said Janet Duffy, who works at Robins Air Force Base and is having to take some furlough days this year. We are trying to spend a little less than last year.
Duffy said she shops at places that offer customer reward cards, like American Eagle, and at Aeropostale, which gives her a discount since her husband is retired from the military.
With kids this age, its where they want to shop anyway, so it helps, she said.
While it might seem like summer just arrived, July kicks off back-to-school shopping.
Midstate retailers began replacing lawn chairs and swimming pool toys with back-to-school items several weeks ago. Last year the National Retail Federation found one in five families began school shopping two months before school started.
Retail giant Wal-Mart unveiled its back-to-school lineup last week, offering more than 250 school supplies for less than $1 and featuring a new Teachers Corner that puts classroom needs in one location, according to a news release.
This year, Staples has a new Reward-A-Classroom program for teachers. When reward-card members link their accounts to teachers they choose, those teachers can then get discounts on their purchases, the company said.
According to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, teachers spent an average of $268 on school supplies in the 2012-2013 school year, $491 on instructional materials and another $186 on other classroom supplies, for a total average of $945 for their classrooms.
Back-to-school spending comes in second only to winter holiday spending.
Shoppers spend more during the Christmas holidays -- last year to the tune of $579.8 billion -- with back-to-school spending coming in at $83.8 billion and Valentines Day in third place at $18.6 billion, according to a news release from the National Retail Federation.
In a recent survey, almost 77 percent of families with school-age children said the state of the economy would impact their back-to-school spending plans, the release said. This is down slightly from 80 percent during the same time in 2012, but its clear people are still feeling pressure from economic conditions.
The June retail sales numbers from the U.S. Department of Commerce showed a measly 0.4 percent increase from May, according to Forbes magazine online.
Retailers are hoping for a strong shopping season later this summer to make up for the slack so far this year, according to the magazine.
Customers spread out school spending
Duffy began back-to-school shopping in June because her daughter, Jalena, started a summer-school program at Georgia Southern University.
Well still need to buy her some more school-type supplies, but she got a laptop, a printer and stuff for her doom room, Duffy said. So that helped us to spread it out.
Even though Georgia holds its tax-free weekend Aug. 9-10, Duffy said she probably will buy some winter clothes for her children at that time.
My son can wear shorts and flip-flops to school until the weather turns colder, she said. It helps, too, not having to buy brand new tennis shoes until later on in the year.
This year, the sales tax holiday period falls after students in some midstate school systems return to the classroom. Public schools in Houston County open Aug. 1 with Bibb County students returning Aug. 5 and Jones County back in session Aug. 6.
Other systems have a later start, and parents will be able to fully take advantage of the sales tax holiday. Peach County schools start Aug. 13, and Monroe County students go back Aug. 14.
Among the items exempt from state sales tax are clothing and shoes that are $100 or less per item, personal computers and accessories valued at $1,000 or less and general school supplies that are $20 or less per item.
Ron McCoy, manager of the Warner Robins Target, said the store set up its back-to-school displays a week ago. However, some school supplies are found in the stationery section year round and people started shopping that in June pretty heavily, he said.
We have a bigger selection and better sales on (all school items) now, McCoy said. The next two weeks are going to be prime time for us.
The store has not added extra employees to handle school shoppers but will use existing workers as needed, he said.
We chose not to (hire extra workers) this year, McCoy said. Some retailers do (add employees) as the work load is heavy.
For a change, Rochelle Zimmerman of Bonaire was not focused on finding a bargain while in Target last week buying folders.
Weve had to go to many different stores just to find the right colors, she said, laughing.
Usually shes looking for sales while school shopping for sons, Jaren, 9, who will go to David A. Perdue Elementary School this fall, and Ethan, 7, who will attend David A. Perdue Primary School.
Zimmerman said she usually checks advertising circulars to see who has what on sale and who has the best deal.
She expects not to spend more than $50 on supplies for both children, she said.
While the prices of items seem to be about the same as in the past, her husband works on a commission so his income fluctuates.
Her son, Jaren, said he was not crazy about back-to-school shopping, but he is looking forward to starting school in less than two weeks.
I feel pretty good because I hope to have a teacher I had one year before, he said. And I like learning a lot because I want to be an astrophysicist, so I need to learn a lot.
Younger students need electronic equipment
Like some other large retailers, Target posts school supply lists, which includes what area schools want area students to have on hand when they come to school.
The store also stocks up on clothing that matches school uniform requirements of area schools, such as khaki pants or white shirts and blouses. It doesnt carry uniforms with logos.
McCoy said the economy doesnt seem to be affecting shoppers more than usual.
I think everybody likes a good deal, he said. We have (an advertising) circular every week, and usually have pretty good sales in it. The thing about back-to-school, its pretty much always on sale, especially leading up to school opening.
The Barnes & Noble Booksellers store at The Shoppes at River Crossing in north Bibb County is seeing an increase in school shoppers, said manager Christopher Paine.
We are the go-to store for summer reading and required reading titles, study guides and planners, and have seen significant and increasing interest in those areas in the past week, Paine said in an email. We have deep stock levels and expect customers to continue to visit us for their back-to-school needs as students return to the various local schools over the course of the next month.
Brad Spiegel, co-owner of Quality Computer Systems at 2940 Riverside Drive, said while school shoppers seem to have come in a little earlier than usual this year, last year they were later than usual.
I think people realized that they couldnt find what they needed in time last year, Spiegel said.
One interesting twist this year: A lot of back-to-school customers are replacing electronic tablets they bought for school or Christmas last year with laptops, he said.
The feedback Im getting from people is that its hard for their kids to type a paper on a tablet, Spiegel said. They thought it would work, and lo and behold, it didnt work.
Spiegel also has noticed a change in some shoppers attitudes.
Im hearing less of I want the cheapest thing possible and more of I want something thats going to last me a period of time, he said. Whereas in 09 I heard, I want the least expensive thing I can get, and Ill deal with it later if I have a problem.
More parents are buying electronic equipment for younger children this year, Spiegel said.
We are seeing a large bump in shoppers for middle- and elementary-school children in addition to the usual college and high-school shoppers.
Its intriguing to see that upswing of people realizing that younger and younger children need machines, he said.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.