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Busy Mama: Prepare your minds, wallets: It’s time for back-to-school shopping

Last weekend, I found myself doing something I hadn’t planned on doing so early in the summer: digging through the back-to-school sale bins at a department store.

I couldn’t help it. Glue sticks were on sale – name brand, high-quality, mega packs of glue sticks for 99 cents! I hadn’t been that excited about a deal since I scored a pair of cute boots on clearance last year.

When it was just my daughter in school, we could knock out back-to-school shopping in a weekend or two. In fact, one year, we ended up shopping on Labor Day with, apparently, the rest of America, judging by the long lines and skimpy selection. (Not one of my fondest parenting moments.)

But now that all three of our kiddos are in school, we try to hunt for bargains and spread out the damage over a few paychecks.

Back-to-school shopping is the second-biggest cash maker for retailers, behind Christmas. And this year, the average family with children in grades K-12 plans to spend about $669 in apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5 percent from about $635 in 2013, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.

That includes about $205 on clothing, $102 on shoes, $96 on school supplies and $180 on tablets, cellphones and other electronics, according to the survey. (Those amounts are all slightly higher for middle and high school students.)

“Slow improvements in the economy may have contributed to the growth in confidence among back-to-school shoppers,” federation president and CEO Matthew Shay said in a news release, “and while we are encouraged by the overall tone of the results and expect to see continued improvement in consumer spending through the year, we know Americans are still grappling with their purchase decisions every day.

“Throughout the history of this survey, spending has fluctuated based on family needs each year, and this summer, we expect parents to continue to use caution, but also make smart decisions for their family budget that is a good balance between what their children ‘want’ and what they actually need.”

Here are some tips on how to survive the season, and even save a little money:

•  Take an inventory of what your children already have, so you can avoid buying duplicate items. Last year, at the end of the school year, I stashed boxes of barely used colored pencils and watercolor paints that my kids brought home from their desks. Now, if only I can find out where I put them before school begins.

•  Comparison shop. Check newspaper advertisements and stores’ websites for deals. Some retailers will send you special deals if you text them a code with your cellphone number.

•  Look for deals at thrift shops. We usually spend a weekend picking up jeans, coats and other basics at thrift stores before heading out to the mall or other retailers.

•  If your family is in need of help, watch for events such as Olympia-Lacey Church of God’s annual block party, which will be 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 23 at 5005 Lacey Blvd. SE, Lacey. The event will feature free haircuts, school supplies and fun activities for families. For more information on that event, call 360-491-0414.

There’s also the Little Red Schoolhouse Project, which will offer backpacks and basic supplies for Thurston County families in need from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 21 at Komachin Middle School, 3650 College St. SE, Lacey. For more information, go to