Back to school

I’ve started seeing Facebook posts of friends gleefully sending their kids off for the first day of the new school year – marking the unofficial end of summer.

Can it be? It’s only mid-August!

The start of the school year brings with it the mad dash to complete back-to-school shopping lists.

However, this year’s back-to-school shopping season isn’t shaping up to be as robust as 2014. A survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) indicates that – on average – families with children in grades K-12 plan to spend $630 on clothes, electronics and other school supplies in 2015, compared to an average $669 a year ago. Families with college kids plan to spend an average $899 this year.

One reason for the more modest back-to-school shopping may be the lack of “must-have” gadgets on kids’ wish lists, according to Russell Price, an economist at Ameriprise Financial.

Also, more kids are wearing school uniforms. Twenty-eight percent of parents surveyed by the NRF said their children wear school uniforms, the most in the survey’s 13-year history. Often times, school uniforms can be purchased at more affordable prices – from places like Kohl’s, Old Navy and Amazon – than having to buy the latest trends.

More families also are planning to use school merchandise they already have on hand. In fact, A Deloitte study indicates that 39 percent of parents say they plan to reuse this past year’s items instead of buying new, up from 26 percent five years ago.

Increasingly, savvy shoppers are turning to their smartphones and tablets to help their shopping dollars stretch further. The Deloitte study also indicates that 80 percent of smartphone owners plan to use their devices in the back-to-school shopping process in 2015 – either for research before hitting brick-and-mortar stores or to make actual purchases, a 6 percentage point increase over 2014.

To help with the back-to-school season, we’ve scoured the Internet to find some great apps and tools to help take the sting out of the back-to-school season.

RedLaserRedLaser. The Internet continues to be all abuzz about RedLaser, which is owned by Ebay Inc. It lets you scan an item’s barcode and compare online and offline prices at local stores to find the best deals. There’s even space inside RedLaser to keep lists of products. (Free on iOS and Android)

The Coupons AppThe Coupons App. Let’s face it, clipping coupons is a drag. If you’re like me, even when you find coupons, you forget to take them to the store. The Coupons App helps solve this dilemma. It allows you to search for deals, coupons and online promo codes from more than 100,000 retailers. After working up an appetite from all that back-to-school shopping, The Coupon App also allows you search for restaurant deals at thousands of nation and local chains. You can even find deals on where to gas up before driving all over town in search of the best backpacks, sneakers, crayons and laptops. (Free on iOS and Android)

ShopularShopular. Another great option for chasing deals is Shopular. This popular app is updated daily and gives shoppers the best deals and coupons for stores like Target, Walmart, Kmart, Old Navy, Famous Footwear, Office Depot and many others. (Free on iOS and Google Play)

school-supply-list-appThe School Supply List. To alleviate some of the stress of school shopping, you need to start with a good list. The School Supply List app allows you to create a list for each kid heading back to school and choose from its database of more than 150 items or add your own. You also can choose or add store preferences for each item, along with notes you may need while shopping. (99 cents on iOS)

Centrallo. For those students heading off to college, one app that may be worth packing is Centrallo, an app dedicated to creating a Centrallocentral hub of lists, emails, voice notices and text messages. It also can be used to create lists to organize students’ shopping needs. The free checklists include more than 100 essential items from a variety of categories, such as clothing and accessories, electronics, bedding and laundry, household items and school supplies. (Free on iOS and Google Play, along with a Premium version for $4.99 a month)

VSpot_logoVolunteerSpot. This final suggestion isn’t about back-to-school shopping. It’s not even an app. But from hearing my colleagues lament about organizing PTA bake sales, cheer practice and swim meets, I thought VolunteerSpot was an appropriate addition to these back-to-school recommendations. This online service is great for coordinating parent helpers for school or after-school activities. You can easily create school jobs and items needed, invite parents to sign up and send automated reminders to help busy parents remember when it’s their turn to bring the orange slices to soccer practice. (Free to join)

This list is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more apps and tools out there to help survive back-to-school shopping and the new school year.

What are your favorites?