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RISMEDIA, August 19, 2010—(MCT)—Busy mom Alyshia Manzella is willing to share her secrets for outfitting kids on a budget. “You have to set a budget,” she said. Hers is $150 per child — “and I seem to get away with it,” she confided with a smile.

“I love bargain hunting,” she said. “The key is advance shopping.”

Many retailers began advertising back to school sales early this month. Retailers expect back-to-school shopping to increase this year but a majority of shoppers are looking for ways to save money, according to consumer surveys in July.

Kantar Retail, of Columbus, Ohio, which surveyed 4,000 U.S. shoppers, found 29 percent plan to spend more, up from 24 percent a year ago but down from 33 percent in the pre-recession years.

Seven in 10 shoppers plan to patronize discount stores, with 53 percent looking for sales and 30 percent planning to shop online, according to a survey of 9,000 consumers by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation.

“Many of today’s shoppers are smarter than any other generation before them, especially when it comes to finding the best price,” said Phil Rist of BIGresearch, noting the availability of price comparisons, free shipping and coupons online.

The survey found the average family with school-age kids expects to spend $329 on clothes and shoes and $97 on school supplies.

One-quarter said they begin shopping one to two weeks before school starts and nearly half start three to four weeks beforehand. Only 21 percent start earlier. Manzella, 45, is in that group.

She has a daughter, Ana, 13, and two sons, Alesandro, 10, and Andre, 6, getting ready for school. Her oldest, who is 28, is living on her own.

Last year was especially challenging because Ana switched from Holy Cross, where uniforms are required, to Pacific Collegiate, where students wear “real clothes,” as Manzella put it.

When Ana wore her navy blue skirt from Holy Cross last year, her new classmates called her a “preppie,” and she told her mom never again.

So Manzella keeps an eye out for sales at retailers her daughter likes, like Justice and Aeropostale in the Capitola Mall.

“If you get on their e-mail list, you get coupons,” she said.

Another favorite is trendy discount retailer Ross, where they watched the selection and found a cute pair of flats for $12.99 and a stylish Jansport backpack for $22.

Manzella also scored at Ross for her boys, who attend Holy Cross. She snagged Hang Ten sneakers usually $30 a pair for $13.99, white polo shirts for $5

“I can find really good deals,” she said. “I always head for the clearance racks.”

Backpacks she got for 90 percent off at CVS in a clearance sale last September and socks for $1 at the Dollar Store.

She’s an online shopper, too, raving about trousers with double knees and free shipping at

On Thursday nights, the overstock discounts jump to 75 percent. That’s when she pounces, buying white shirts for her boys. If the price is right, she buys the sizes she expects the boys will need in the future too.

She’s got the storage space, thanks to the business she’s in, running a moving company.

Other moms are also looking for deals as they get their kids ready for school.

Maria Cornyn, 46, of Scotts Valley, Calif., found a backpack with wheels for her younger son, who’s entering second grade, at the Gap in Santa Cruz, Calif.

The store had a 30 percent off sale, so she paid $27 instead of $36.50.

She’s still looking for a backpack for her older son, who will be in fourth grade.

“I want to get something that he likes,” she said.

Fanny Garcia, 31, of Scotts Valley, finds it challenging to outfit her preschoolers, especially in shoes. At ages 4 and 3, they grow so fast.

To save money, she looks for big sales and secondhand stores, like Abbot’s Thrift in Felton, which sells clothing at half off on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Goodwill and Salvation Army.

Moms need not worry their family is the only one being thrifty.

“There’s lots of reason to budget with a tight economy,” Manzella said.

(c) 2010, Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, Calif.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.