Four out of five Americans surveyed this summer by the National Retail Federation say the economy is affecting their plans for the new school year. Spending is expected to decline by 7.7% with many families planning to buy only what they need and shopping sales. Discount stores continue to be a favorite choice to find bargains, but the NRF survey found that drug stores are gaining in popularity for back to school items.

While spending in most back-to-school categories is expected to decrease, one area continues to grow: electronics. With prices for laptops, iPhones, and other equipment decreasing, many families are taking advantage of the opportunities to get technology for their kids, especially those going off to college.

When we went to school, we did very little back to school shopping. Yes, new paper in a shiny new loose leaf was fun, but my mom always thought we should start school and see what we really needed. Often, the required list was quite small or could be bought in stages. There really was no need for expensive trips to stock up on junk.

The back to school clothes shopping was done much the same way. We rarely got anything new to start the school year but would hit the sales before and after the holidays. Sometimes, my mom would get a seasonal job at one of the department stores so she could get the discount to buy us clothes. We could get great bargains at a fraction of the original cost.

We were never shy about taking hand-me-downs from other people, either. In fact, we thought it was fun. Sometimes we would score a really nice sweater or jacket that was "cooler" than what mom would let us have.

I realized the hard way that things have changed when I offered the lady across the street a beautiful down jacket for her son that my son had outgrown. Indignantly she said, "I can afford to buy my son clothes," and walked away.

I was stunned. After all, I still accept hand-me-downs from friends and family. I thought everyone did.

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro. For her FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro.

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