How To Keep Back-To-School Costs Down

What happened to the days when all you got for the first day of school were some pens, some pencils and a loose-leaf notebook? The shopping trip to the local five-and-dime took, maybe, 15 minutes.

These days, even the youngest students will often get a list from their new teachers prior to the first day of school that suggests which items they'll need for the school year.

The lists are often long: One third-grader in the New York area had a list of more than 40 items, including 10 folders, 3 boxes of pencils, 3 glue sticks, 4 highlighters, 4 notebooks, and on and on.

The National Retail Federation estimates that parents will spend about $100 per child for back-to-school related items. But is there any way to trim that figure?

The Early Show's Consumer Watch contributor Susan Koeppen visited a Staples in Manhasset, N.Y., to check out prices and offer some recommendations on how to save money while still getting your children what they need.

There are still some major sales going on, Koeppen said. While visiting Staples, she found a package of eight pencils on sale for one cent.

According to Koeppen, the first thing to do is get fliers from all the local stores to compare prices. After you've done your local comparison shopping, look online, because there are bargains to be had there as well.

"Stores like to price match," Koeppen advised. So if you see something on sale in one store, another local store will likely match their price. In addition, if you buy something for full price and then see it on sale, "don't be afraid to go back to the store" and ask them to refund the difference, she said.

As for the long lists of products, "You don't need it all on the first day," she pointed out. "Buy things as you need them. And see what you have at home" — you may already have a few highlighters sitting in a desk drawer.

There are a few items worth splurging on, said Koeppen. "Spend your money wisely," she advised. "Pay extra to get the sturdiest folders and the sturdiest backpack." Another popular item worth investing in is a flash drive — a small, portable hard drive with which kids can upload their projects to take to school with them.

Things not to spend much on, says Koeppen: Pens, pencils, paper — anything that kids will use and lose.