NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- American consumers are cutting back on back-to-school spending in 2015, down to $630.36 from $669.28 in 2014, according to the National Retail Federation. (It's worth noting that U.S. consumer back to school spending has risen 42% over the past decade, according to the NRF.)
This year, mom and dad want to focus more on comparison shopping and honing in on discounts and tax-free shopping holidays before they start signing any credit card scanners. They also want to be more discriminating on what back to school supplies the family needs.
"As seen over the last 13 years, spending on back-to-school has consistently fluctuated based on children's needs each year, and it's unlikely most families would need to restock and replenish apparel, electronics and supplies every year," says Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation. "Parents this summer will inventory their children's school supplies and decide what is needed and what can be reused, which just makes good budgeting sense for families with growing children."
Consumer analysts do say 2015 should be a good year for back-to-school discounts and coupon hunting.
"Stores are looking to clear the racks of summer apparel to make room for fall and back-to-school clothing," notes Howard Schaffer, vice president of merchandise at Offers.com. "For example, shop the clearance section for the greatest savings -- as much as 80% -- and take advantage of tax-free weekends and back-to-school sales."
Amazon is offering 20% off backpacks and other school bags from August 7 to 13 to Prime members. Non-Prime members can avail of the discounts by signing up for a 30-day free trial.
Schaffer also has a tip on big-ticket computer items.
"The key to cashing in on August's big computer sales is by stacking reduced prices with other savings incentives like student counts, tax free holidays, cash-back rewards, instant and mail-in rebates and free shipping coupons," he says. "Even refurbished laptops can solve family budget issues, saving students up to half the cost of a new model. The savviest parents know all these discounts add up to saving families hundreds in August."
Schaffer says that laptops, tablets and smartphones should deliver big discounts, along with clothing, writing supplies and college furniture for dorm rooms and apartments.
Melissa Garcia, owner of the web site ConsumerQueen.com, makes it a point to scour the best back-to-school deals and post them on her web site.
"What we're seeing Office Depot and Staples have awesome weekly sales," she says. "Many items are under $1 and sometimes can be as low as a penny. The trick is they only have a limited supply but not to worry - because you can take all those ads and price match at Walmart."
"Don't forget to check your state's tax free days as well to save money," Garcia adds.
Back-to-school shoppers should also go online to compare retailer prices.
"Back-to-school season is the second heaviest for retail next to the holidays, so competition is fierce," says Kendal Perez , a savings expert for CouponSherpa.com. "Use digital tools to help you find the best price, like PriceGrabber or the Invisible Hand browser add-on. You can also compare prices on the fly with free apps ShopSavvy or RedLaser, which will pull up a list of prices and locations for a product you're looking at. Not only can you easily find the best deal, but you can show the price to a sales associate or manager and request a price match."
Bottom-line: For moms and dads straining to meet a household budget, there are good deals to be had on school shopping this year. Be diligent, price compare online and look for tax-free holidays that can add to further savings. Do that, and back-to-school shopping should be painless - and budget friendly - this year.
If you don't have kids, you can still take advantage of back-to-school sales this month. As summer travel wraps up, you can get the most attractive deals on summer apparel, luggage and other travel gear.
Below are links to TheStreet's Back-to-School Buying Guide for laptops, tablets and smartphones:
Best Back-to-School Laptops
Best Back-to-School Tablets
Best Back-to-School Smartphones