Back-to-School Shoppers Hunt for Deals

Survey shows consumers scaling back as they get their kids ready for school.

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As Americans embark on their annual back-to-school shopping trips, they're cutting back and saving money where they can. That means clipping coupons, sticking to a budget, and reusing last year's supplies, according to the Chase Slate-U.S. News Consumer Monitor. About 4 in 10 respondents said their back-to-school budget was smaller than last year, and many shoppers are waiting until the last minute to start their shopping.

This frugal mindset isn't surprising, considering that Americans' top concerns remain the economy and unemployment. Six in 10 respondents said they believe the economy is headed in the wrong direction, and 42 percent believe the economy has not yet bottomed and will still get worse. That's bad news for retailers, which are hoping for a consumer spending rebound.

The good news is that respondents were slightly more optimistic about their own finances, with 1 in 3 reporting improvements. And most people said they were either mostly or completely in control of their personal finances.

So, where are Americans cutting back? Here's what they said they would focus on:

1. Clothing: Most respondents said they would focus on clothes when trying to spend less, perhaps because there are a lot of discount options. About 84 percent of respondents said they would do most of their shopping at large discount stores like Target and Wal-Mart, where there are plenty of discounts.

2. School supplies: Pencils, notebooks, and calculators are being scrutinized, with 4 in 10 respondents looking for ways to spend less on them.

3. Weekend and extra-curricular activities: Sports, extra classes, and tutoring are also tempting places to cut back, respondents said.

If you're looking for ways to cut back on your back-to-school budget, here are some suggestions:

1. Desperate for shoppers, retailers are slashing their prices, especially on back-to-school sales. Office supply stores such as Staples, where 16 percent of respondents said they would do most of their back-to-school shopping, launched sales early in the summer and they're still going strong. Be sure to check the stores' weekly ads before your visit. At Staples, for example, you can find packs of markers for $1 or free pens after mail-in rebates. Target announces many of its deals through its weekly circular for items including backpacks, notebooks, and electronics.

2. Have you snagged a Twitter deal yet? Twitter's new deal feed, @earlybird, launched just in time for back-to-school savings. Follow your favorite store to get first dibs on some of the best deals. CVS, for example, advertises discounts through its Twitter feed, @cvs_extra. (Advanced Twitter users can search using the hash tag #BackToSchool.)

3. Finding back-to-school coupons doesn't have to take up too much time with helpful websites such as www.CouponMom.com. The founder started out focusing on groceries but now has coupons available for a range of stores. The best way to use it is to do a search on that site once you know what you want to buy, then to see what deals are available. Bradsdeals.com is also helpful with a dedicated page for back to school specials.

4. If you're shopping online for back-to-school items, don't forget to do an Internet search for the name of the retailer and the word "coupon" (such as "Staples" and "coupon") before purchasing, to see if you can get a discount before you check out.

Chase Slate-U.S. News Consumer Monitor Back to School Survey was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs on behalf of Chase Credit Card Services. The telephone survey of 1080 adults nationally was fielded between August 3rd and August 9th, 2010. The margin of error on a sample size of 1080 is +/-3% and larger for subgroups. To learn more about the Chase Slate-U.S. News Consumer Monitor or Chase Slate with Blueprint, please visit http://multivu.prnewswire.com/mnr/chase/45421/.