Save big during the back-to-school season

In this Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011 photo, Gayle Strickland Jones shops for back-to-school supplies for fifth-grade son and seventh-grade daughter at staples in Chestnut Hill Plaza in Delaware, Del. Consumers spent less on autos, clothing and furniture, leaving retail sales unchanged in August. The lack of growth in retail sales during a month of wild stock market fluctuations may increase recession fears.(AP Photo/Saquan Stimpson)
Saquan Stimpson
Parents should begin shopping for back-to-school supplies now as retailers will be promoting various sales.
Saquan Stimpson
(MoneyWatch) Though it's not even August, the back-to-school shopping has begun, with many stores offering sales in the run-up to September. Between nostalgia for your own school days plus the demands of your children, it can be tempting to overspend. Here's how to stick to a budget.

For starters, make sure you look at the school supplies your children already have at home before going out and buying new items, recommends personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, author of eight books including her newest, "Money Rules."  

"I know that the allure of shiny new pencils is hard to resist, but shiny new binders, with all the accoutrements, can run $15 or $20 a pop," she says. "Before you buy new, see what you can recycle from last year. I always find something!" Indeed, New York City resident Brenda Rivera has already found leftover pens, loose-leaf paper, and other items that will be heading back to school with her 16-year-old high school student in the fall.

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Jon Lal, founder of coupons website, advises parents to use your computer, "even if you are going to the store to shop, as online weekly ads tell you what's on sale near you."  He suggests printing coupons for free from coupon websites (needless to say he recommends for the opportunity to save big on back to school clothes, dorm furniture, computers, and more.

Retailers are already vying for shoppers -- Staples (SPLS), for example, is selling "savings passes," which get customers a 15 percent discount. But they cost $10, so make sure you'll spend at least $70 or they aren't worth it. 

Nearly 50 percent of consumers this year plan to spend more during the back-to-school season than they did in 2011, according to a survey conducted by online shopping site PriceGrabber. But with so many back-to-school items available, it can be difficult to figure out exactly which ones kids need for the upcoming school year. 

While school supplies can add up, the real budget busters are clothes for fashion-conscious teens. Chatzky suggests that parents hold off on restocking their kids closets.

"Remember that school starts in the summer," she said. "The back to school sales would like you to start loading up on fall clothing before the temperatures have even started to drop. Don't. Instead, take your time. Let your kids wear their summer wardrobe. And start adding in the pieces for fall that you actually need slowly as the calendar turns to October. The sales may be even better then!"

What's more, your children's idea today of what clothes they like may change dramatically once they see what the cool kids are wearing this fall.