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Back-to-school shopping shocker: $700 for first-grade supplies?

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Rebecca Catlett/AP/File

(Read caption) Back-to-school shopping season has arrived, but parents are shocked that the average cost of supplies this year is $700. In this 2010 file photo, fourth-grader Victoria McBeth steps off the bus to a bath of bubbles as teachers welcome students back to school at Maine-Memorial Elementary School in the Town of Maine, N.Y.

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I needed to sit down and breathe into the type of brown paper bag I will pack lunches in after seeing a new report detailing the current cost of sending a child back to school at the end of this month.

The average cost of back-to-school spending for kindergarten through 12th grade is $688, according to The National Retail Federation, up from $603.63 last year. Average college back-to-school costs this year are expected to be $907, $100 more than families spent last year.

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My sons are entering third grade, eight grade, 12th grade, and college this fall. I am doomed!

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While waiting in line at the supermarket I heard a woman on the phone seriously asking, “Has an iPad become an essential this year, or should I just go with a smart phone?”

It wasn’t until a lot of “uh-huhs” later that she looked down at the 8-year-old beside her and said, “We’ll go look at iPads for school right after this.”

Given half a chance, I am sure many students would argue in favor of the device, along with a host of fashion-forward “must haves” currently vying with the Olympics for our attention. I suppose I just thought those students would be teens, not tots.

Has back-to-school shopping become the next holiday buying spree for kids? And if so, how do we parent through the avarice of newer, higher-tech, trendy school “needs?”

When I went online to get some more information on how many other parents might be feeling my pain I ran across the Capital One 12th annual back-to-school shopping survey wherein “59 percent of parents say the amount of money they plan to spend on back-to-school shopping this year is impacted by current economic concerns, and 42 percent of parents say their spending will be impacted by school budget cuts.”

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Aren't the Capitol One guys always asking, “What’s in your wallet?” The answer is receipts for school supplies and nothing else.

The truth is that many of us are about to make the choice between what your child’s lunch is in and what is in the lunch.

I always scoffed at the whole “how to survive back-to-school” shopping thing, but this year I am really worried. I don’t feel like we will survive it without a whole lot of strategy. So my tribe is about to spend the next few weeks deep in treasure hunt mode. We are going to pull together every pencil, pen, and protractor from days gone by and sharpen and shine them for new use.

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Thrift shops will be visited for funky vintage looks. I may have to embrace the hipster trend for the boys this year just to get by on the clothing issues.

The reality is that my schools can’t afford supplies and neither can I. So if you have extras or no kids to buy for and you want to give a parent a break, maybe you can drop by the local schools to pool for those of us in danger of drowning.

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