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Every year, parents scramble the last days of July and first weeks of August to get everything their children need, and want, to head back to school.

In fact, a recent survey from the National Retail Federation suggested this year's back-to-school spending will climb to $30.3 billion. That's only for children in grades K-12. For college, that number more than doubles. Here are a few tips to make the ritual a little less heavy on the wallet.

Clothes and shoes

If your kid grew a few inches over the summer, chances are you'll need to buy pants, shirts and shoes. For younger kids, the big-box office stores could help. Walmart and Kmart offer some good deals, but Target has the biggest potential for savings.

Target offers coupons online. You can also subscribe to get coupons sent to your phone. The company also just rolled out a new savings tool called Cartwheel that offers deals of 5-30 percent off on clothes, shoes and household items. If you have the Target debit or credit cards, take an extra 5 percent off purchases at checkout.

Coupons are still in. Sunday papers are full of them. You can also get them straight to your e-mail by signing up for alerts on the retailer's website. Some of the stores big on coupons are Kohl's, JC Penney and TJ Maxx.

School supplies

Look for the annual 1-cent sales at Staples and Office Max. It usually requires a minimum $5 purchase to in turn get pencils, pens, protractors, folders and more for just a few cents each. Pretty much all other big stores run great deals on supplies. The key is to buy in bulk so they last through the year and sometimes into the following. As soon as all schools are open, some stores such as Target will run clearance sales on those supplies. Stock up.

Do-it-yourself, recycling

It's time to get back to packing lunches. Cooking and prepping meals at home is a big money saver. Use a refillable water bottle to save on plastic bottles and to encourage your child to drink more water. Opt for a reusable and washable lunch box instead of paper bags and consider reusable utensils instead of throwaways. Make it fun to decorate a simple lunch bag or backpack with stickers or patches. If last year's clothes don't fit anymore, don't throw them away, hand them down to the little ones, donate or recycle them.

Back-to-school time can be stressful for parents but remember, it's also a big step for children. Go over safety tips with them to make it a secure, enjoyable new year.

Martha Maurer, News Editor

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