Families head back to school on a budget

"We're definitely having to get just the bare minimum this year," said Tanya Barca, a mother of two. "I'm trying to make my money stretch this year."

Barca's back-to-school budget has dropped this year from $250 per child to just $100, causing her to search for bargain buys.

In the next aisle, Wendy Powell, a mother of three, said tough times have left her with only $20 per child for her back-to-school supplies.

"They are using last year's clothes absolutely, but they're also using last year's crayons and different things that I have left over," Wendy said. "They don't get the extra folders they want or the pretty pencils or whatever they want."

It's the same story nationwide, where 71 percent of consumers say they plan to spend less on back-to-school shopping this year, according to a survey conducted by the Deloitte LLP consulting firm. The survey concluded that 79 percent said that they will buy back-to-school items on sale, relying on coupons and discount stores for the best prices.

"You can really see that people are looking at the value," said Jeff Tipton, manager of the Kingman Wal-Mart. "They're looking very price-conscious."

Even just the back-to-school necessities add up quickly: a new backpack is around $20, a new lunch pail is around $10 and, by the time you add in all the new folders, pens, pencils and other supplies, you've spent nearly $50 for one child -- and that's before buying a single piece of clothing.

"I'm buying them less and they're not getting to pick out much this year," Barca said. For her teenage son, that means no new shoes.

"The shoes on me are getting tighter and the shoe prices are going up, so she can't afford the shoes," her son said.

To help, the Kingman Unified School District is passing out donated backpacks – 3,600 so far.

"Backpacks are really important to us when we're in an economic crisis," said superintendent Roger Jacks. "We want to try and help out our parents as much as we can."

But the schools have their own problems. Some schools have had to charge more for lunch due to rising food prices. They've also cut back on after-school programs and field trips to save money on fuel and electric costs.

Expensive gas also means fewer daily bus routes. By consolidating, districts are placing an added financial burden on parents to drive their kids to school. For many, the two-mile walk without the bus is just too far.

"It's going to be almost impossible for some people and I just don't understand it," said Diana Turner, another Kingman mother.

For thousands of parents and their kids across the country, going back to school on a shoestring budget presents an unexpected math lesson and nights of number-crunching.

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