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Smart shopping: Locals search for back-to-school deals

Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Kindergartner Rhyanna James and first-grader Brandon Richards, who both attend West Newton Elementary, were stocking up on colored pencils, crayons and markers during a shopping trip with Richards' mom on Tuesday morning at Kmart in Covington.

Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Kindergartner Rhyanna James and first-grader Brandon Richards, who both attend West Newton Elementary, were stocking up on colored pencils, crayons and markers during a shopping trip with Richards' mom on Tuesday morning at Kmart in Covington.

COVINGTON -- Stores are stocking their shelves with crayons, notebook paper and No. 2 pencils just in time for the back-to-school rush.

But for the second consecutive year, Georgians won't have to wait until the last minute to stock up on school supplies to get the best deals. The state won't hold its statewide sales tax holiday weekend again this year due to budget shortfalls.

Last year, it canceled the holiday that it started several years earlier. The sales tax-free weekend generally was held in late July or early August, just in time for many school systems to begin their new school years.

Since 2002, the sales tax-free weekend helped consumers save on apparel, footwear, school supplies and electronics. But the tax holiday cost the state $12 million in revenue.

Families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $603.63 on apparel, school supplies and electronics, within a few dollars of last year's $606.40 average, according to the National Retail Foundation's 2011 Back-to-School survey.

"Families aren't opposed to spending on what they need, but parents want their children to take a good look around at what they already have before deciding what to buy for back to school this year," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "Retailers understand consumers are extremely focused on value and are taking this opportunity to offer substantial savings on merchandise."

According to the survey, Americans are compensating for the economy by purchasing more store-brand or generic items, comparison shopping more online and shopping for sales. Additionally, nearly half of survey respondents said the economy is forcing them to simply spend less in general.

Department stores are expected to see a surge in back-to-school traffic thanks to popular private labels, promotions and innovative social media campaigns. According to the survey, 57 percent of back-to-school shoppers will head to a department store, up from 53.9 percent last year and the most in the survey's eight-year history, though the majority of back-to-school shoppers plan to make at least one purchase from a discount store.

"Back-to-school shopping may be exhilarating for kids who ride along, but for mom and dad this is serious business," said Pam Goodfellow, Consumer Insights director at BIGresearch which conducted the survey. "By shopping around at a variety of retailers before deciding where to buy, parents will be able to find the best values on the items they really need this year."

The survey found that more college shoppers this year will make adjustments to their budgets because of the economy -- parents and students will spend an average of $808.71 on everything, from apparel and electronics to dorm furnishings and food items, down from $835.73 last year. They, too, are expected to buy more store brands and shop online to save money.

"College students and their parents, who are likely also spending thousands of dollars on tuition, will be looking for ways to stretch their budgets and find good deals this year," Shay said. "To compensate, retailers will spread out their promotions to capture the attention of shoppers whenever they're in the mood to spend, and will use every resource they can to prominently promote everything from bedding to mini refrigerators and, of course, laptops and smart phones."