I used to love Back-to-School shopping. When I was a kid, my mom would haul out the Sears catalog and let me pick out a few new dresses and a pair of new shoes. It was like Christmas in Autumn. These days, however, as a mom of two grade-school kids, I don't view the season with such delight. Why? Back-to-School shopping is often a budget-buster for those of us living on a shoe-string.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. Retailers around the country are bracing for what they think will be the worst Back-to-School shopping season of the decade. A recent survey by Deloitte shows that 70% of households surveyed indicated that they would be spending much less this season, and nearly half said they'd try to cut back on the back-to-school budget by at least $100.

The good news is, retailers are bending over backwards for the parent dollar, running promotions, two-for-one deals and sales at certain times of the day.

Need versus want: Our consumer culture doesn't encourage this, but lean times require an old-fashioned, thrifty way of thinking. No kid "needs" a new iPod for the new school year. They don't "need" the latest "it" sneaker, nor do they need a new laptop with the latest bells and whistles. What about when your kid has grown two inches over the summer and none of his pants fit? That's a need. Kids do go through shoes and clothes faster than adults. Any parent with boys will marvel at how fast a 7-year-old can put a hole in the knee of a pair of Levi's. My kids eat through shoes in about six months. There's no getting around that fact. You will have to replenish the torn, too-small clothes. But there are clever ways of doing it.

Take stock: Take a deep breath and enter your kids' room. Take inventory of everything they have: Clothes, supplies, shoes. Clothes still in good shape? Keep using them. And why can't you use last year's backpack? (thinking backwards here, if your child is just starting grade school, invest in a good backpack, like one from L.L. Bean, for example, that will take your kid through college). And as far as pencils, pens and rulers go...c'mon, parents. I know and you know there are dozens of rulers and hundreds of pencils in your craft box or under the kids' beds. Ditto crayons and markers.

Beg, borrow or steal:
Tap your friends for hand-me-downs. No reason your 8-year-old can't wear the uniform pants your 10-year-old neighbor grew out of. Similarly, somebody's got to have a good calculator your middle-schooler can use this year. Maybe they'll lend it to you. Somebody you know has just upgraded their laptop and doesn't know what to do with their old one...maybe they'll pass it on to your kid for school use. And so what if it's not set up for wireless. You want your kid writing reports or surfing the web? As for stealing...well I am not recommending committing a crime, but isn't is odd how pens and pencils and notebooks from the workplace always seem to end up at home? Very strange. Just sayin'.

Ask for gift certificates at Christmas, birthdays. When you know your kids will need new shoes or new clothes for the upcoming school year, gift certificates will take the burn off. My kids wear Vans (a kind of surfer-slip on sneaker that were the must-have shoes in SoCal even when I was a tween), and they're about $40 a pair. Since my two kids chew through shoes in six-months, that's $160 a year just to keep them basically shod. However, a Van's gift certificate from the grandparents makes for a hugely grateful mommy come the start of the school year. Old Navy, Target, the Gap, all offer gift certificates. Ask for them, then save them for Back-to-School shopping.

Hit the dollar stores:
For all your paper/binder needs, the dollar store is the only place to go. Why spend anymore than $10 on notebooks and paper for your kids? Unless you have a lot of kids, I mean.

Well, that's how we tightwads handle Back-to-School anyway. What are your tips? I'd love to hear them.

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