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Back-to-School College Shopping: 5 Things NOT to Buy

Back-to-school shopping -- at the college level -- is expected to take a dip this year. The National Retail Federation's latest survey shows parents and students will spend an average of $808.71 on clothes, electronics, dorm gear and food, about 3% less than in 2010. The CEO of the the NRF told CNBC this morning that he thinks the spending numbers speak to current economic weakness and consumer trepidation over the debt ceiling impasse in Washington.

To help sharpen parents' and students' shopping lists, I tapped my brother Todd, an incoming junior at the University of Arizona, for his money-saving shopping advice for college-bound students. To my surprise, he had a long list of purchases you can largely avoid.

Here are his top 5 items to skip.

1. Textbooks

Some textbooks will obviously be required, but many won't be, says Todd, who found his professors overemphasized the number of books students needed. "A lot of times, you can just share with friends," he says. Todd -- who finished last semester with a 3.8 GPA -- didn't buy a single textbook last semester; instead, he borrowed material from fellow classmates and upperclassmen who had old textbooks lying around.

I would also add that students may also be able to check out free copies of textbooks from local libraries. Fellow MoneyWatch blogger Lynn O'Shaugnessy also has some great, additional tips on ways to reduce your college textbook bill -- including where to find some of the cheapest textbooks around.

2. Folders and FIling Systems

There's less of a need to store paper in college than there used to be, says Todd. Most syllabi, class assignments and updates are posted online by teachers -- and they're easily accessible on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Best to wait to stock up on paper supplies until you visit each class and get a feel for what documents you'll need to physically keep.

3. A Car

My brother mistakenly brought his car to campus the first year of college, only to find it to be a total money drain, thanks to gas and parking costs. He ended up selling his car (to, ahem, his big sister); instead, he now takes local transportation, or grabs rides with friends to the grocery store or mall when he needs to run errands.

4. Computer Speakers

You may think you need a great sound system or speakers for your computer to play all your tunes and watch movies -- but noise complaints are becoming more common in dormitories, says Todd, and those could get you evicted. My brother himself got two noise complaints during his sophomore year -- just one short of an eviction. Lesson learned: He now suggests investing in a solid pair of headphones.

5. Fashionable Clothes

Another mistake my brother made before the start of college: buying too many new clothes. "New styles and designs come out monthly, so its better to wait," says Todd. He finds the best time of year to shop for clothes is actually during the holidays -- not back-to-school season. (I do, too.)

One thing you DO want to invest in, however, especially if you go to a school in a warmer climate: good flip-flops or sandals. "Waking up early for class is even more a pain when you have laces to tie," he says.

What are some of your purchasing regrets? Log in and share below!

Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at and on Twitter/farnoosh

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