Special Report: Back to School on a Budget

Special Report: Back to School on a Budget

(WTVM) - The back-to-school rush is on, with families across the Valley making the annual trek to stores big and small to find just the right look to usher in a new school year.

While the "look" may be the most important factor for the kids, for many parents it's more about the bottom line.

"We expect people to spend about $673 per family, that's up from $630 last year. So people are feeling more comfortable with their economic situation," says James Miller with the Georgia Retail Association.

While consumers may be feeling comfortable with the economy, that doesn't mean they're not looking for a bargain.

Katie Parker and her daughters normally shop at boutiques and big box retail stores, but decided to try Plato's Closet, a resale store specializing in gently-worn apparel, to compare prices.

After trying on a few things, 11-year-old Hendley and 13-year-old Mary Avnor both found outfits they loved. Both girls found tops and jeans, and Mary Avnor also found a fashionable necklace to top things out.

Parker paid a total of $51.84 for both outfits at Plato's Closet – a huge savings over regular retail. We compared the prices of similar outfits at boutiques and Macy's online.

At an average boutique you'd pay anywhere from $40 to $60 for the jeans, about $25 for the top and another $25 for the necklace, for a total of about $100 for Mary Avnor's outfit.

Similar shopping online at a retailer like Macy's would save you some. Jeans are on sale from $20 to $40, or $30 on average. Flowing blouses and t-shirts like the girls like are about $17. Add in the necklace around $20, and the total comes to $67.

Again, this is for just one outfit. Remember Parker paid $51.84 for both outfits when shopping resale.

"I got a pair of pants and a top and a necklace for her and a pair of jeans and a top for her. I mean you really can't beat that," Parker said.

For even bigger savings, it's hard to beat Goodwill. Many families will shop one of several locations around the Valley to help stretch their budget even further.

"I love thrift shopping anywhere, it's perfect for school, great prices and you save money," says Mara Velazquez, 19.

Velazquez is a college student who spends time shopping at the Goodwill in Phenix City with her mother Maria.

They understand the drawbacks to resale shopping like limited sizes and perhaps not the newest designs, but say the bargains they find are worth the trade-off.

"You can find things like from the mall at Goodwill so that's how I save money looking good," Mara said.

If you need even more incentive, money spent at Goodwill helps people in the community find jobs through Goodwill's Career Centers.

So the bottom line for bargain hunters - do a little prep work before you start your shopping. There are all kinds of apps to help you find the best bargains from "retail-me-not" to "slickdeals".

Also, be sure to watch your mail and online for sales and coupons. Like Katie and her girls, don't be afraid to try something new.

Copyright WTVM 2016. All rights reserved.