Back-to-school shoppers rein in budgets (with audio)

College sophomore Alison Limoncelli opted to wait on buying notebooks until she receives a syllabus
Courtney Carelli, 12, of Fonda, looks to her mother, Jennifer Carelli, as she decides how many binders she needs for school while shopping at Target on Tuesday at Mohawk Commons in Niskayuna.
Courtney Carelli, 12, of Fonda, looks to her mother, Jennifer Carelli, as she decides how many binders she needs for school while shopping at Target on Tuesday at Mohawk Commons in Niskayuna.

College sophomore Alison Limoncelli opted to wait on buying notebooks until she receives a syllabus from her professors.

She hunted down sales at outlet stores for this year’s wardrobe. And Wednesday, she was with her mother at BJ’s Wholesale Club, buying a rug and a desk chair — and admittedly scaling back on her purchases.

Freshman excitement caused her to bring more and spend more than she needed to last year.

“She was really focused on everything being color-coordinated last year,” Debby Limoncelli said of her daughter’s dorm decoration choices.

But after learning the ropes, the undeclared major at St. Lawrence University said she is buying less this time around.

Back to school

Reporter Ameerah Cetawayo interviews shoppers looking for back-to-school deals. Click HERE.

“I know that I’m definitely going to be cutting back on all the unnecessary food that I bought last year,” said Limoncelli, a resident of Palatine Bridge. “And I think it’s good for my waistline, too, so I’m going to try to kill two birds with one stone.”

She’s not alone in economizing.

While back-to-school spending is expected to decline 8 percent from last year, the National Retail Federation estimates that the cost to supply just one child headed off to college will still be around $620. The retail industry trade group also predicts that back-to-school spending for consumer electronics will actually increase 11 percent.

“We’re definitely much more conservative … we’re not getting a lot of extra things,” Debby Limoncelli said. “Not so many decorations this year.”

But Alison Limoncelli said she will find the money to splurge a little through consignment.

Saving strategies

Here are some ways to save on back-to-school shopping:

STICK WITH A LIST: Use the school-provided list and only buy what’s needed.

SEEK STUDENT-SPECIFIC PRODUCTS: Buy laptops, software and other goods that include everything a new student needs without the costly extras that students won’t ever use.

GO ALL-IN-ONE: Look for multifunctioning technology such as $99 printers that enable students to print, scan, fax and copy from a single device, saving money and space.

GET TOGETHER: Team up with other parents or teachers and shop in bulk for school supplies.

SWAP: Hold a neighborhood or school swap, working with parents with younger and older students to swap for school supplies, books and clothes.

CHECK THE LIBRARY: Often you can check out the books your student needs at the public library rather than buy them. Or look for used books to purchase.

WAIT 10 SECONDS: Impulse spending is overspending. Do you really need that $5.75 titanium roller-gel pen? Before you put anything in your cart, take 10 seconds and ask yourself, “Does my child really need it? Is there a less expensive alternative?

GO ONLINE: Check Twitter and coupon sites like and that have back-to-school sections. Also useful are Bargainist, eBay and Craigslist. Local online vendors can save you time cruising stores. Also check price comparison Web sites.

BUY MORE PLASTIC: Buy items made of plastic rather paper, like book covers, pocket folders and dividers. This saves in the long run, as they last longer and are reusable year after year.

BUY BACKPACKS IN OCTOBER: They will be on clearance for as much as 75 to 90 percent off.

EASY ON THE CLOTHING: Take inventory of what you have, invest in classics that don’t go out of style and when in doubt, postpone a purchase. The newest items will have the highest prices, so put off shopping for winter items until they have been marked down. Focus on late summer and early fall pieces that your kids can use now and that are offered at sale prices.

SOURCES: MaPS Credit Union, Best Buy,, Swish Marketing, Inc.,,, “Organizing For Dummies” by Eileen Roth, CG Media.

“We just dropped off a bunch of my old clothes that I can’t wear anymore at Plato’s Closet, so I’m planning on getting some money back so I can use that for stuff for my dorm,” Alison Limoncelli said. “I’m trying to pace myself on how I spend.”

Warehouse deals

At the BJ’s Wholesale Club in Rotterdam, the seasonal area in the center of the club that once held lawn furniture and patio sets now holds large quantities of school essentials in bulk, like pens, pencils and paper.

“The economy has made us even more attractive — the price of gas and rising unemployment. People are really looking for value,” said General Manager John Venditte. “And maybe where a couple of years ago, nobody wanted 30 rolls of toilet paper, even though, per roll, it was a great deal, now they’re coming here for those kind of items, including back-to-school items.”

Related article

To read about some events planned to help with back-to-school savings, click here.

For BJ’s, the smaller and cheaper category is popular, including small, portable laptops priced around $300, desk fans, a mini blender that’s also a travel mug and other small appliances like modest-sized microwaves and small refrigerators that hold a few beverage cans or soup cups.

Venditte said the offerings are popular because they give the dual benefit of economical price and space.

“So somebody really had a great idea. This is really the first time we’ve had this kind of variety in these appliances, and they’re doing really well — it’s the size, it’s the convenience and the price,” he said.

Apparel — specifically $39.99 children’s coats that would cost $100 in a department store — is also selling well at the wholesale store.

“A week or 10 days before Labor Day, it starts percolating,” Venditte said. “But really, once they get into school, especially the kids that are in high school and grammar school — they get all of their lists, specific school supplies, pens and notebooks, etcetera … and we find a big push after Labor Day.

“As far as your college kids — now. Right now, because they’re getting ready to go back,” he said.


At the Parent-Teacher Store in Latham, teachers for the Brighter Choice Charter School in Albany were deciding on classroom decorations and other supplies.

Brenda Robichaud and Pamela Hotaling both teach second grade.

“It’s hard because you need so much stuff — stuff you need to run a successful classroom,” Robichaud said. “You need it. You find the money and you just do it.”

Hotaling said she went into back-to-school mode hoping to spend less, but so far, she hasn’t had much luck.

“I think I set out to trying to spend less — but I don’t think my budget has changed,” said Hotaling.

The teachers said it is easy to go over budget.

“Every time you think you’re set, you see something else or you think of something else,” Robichaud said.

Wednesday marked the first and last day of Fonda resident Jennifer Carelli’s back-to-school shopping as she purchased supplies at Target in Niskayuna.

Her daughter Courtney, 12, starts school on Sept. 9, along with the rest of the Fonda-Fultonville school district.

“We hit all the sale items, but we didn’t pay full price for hardly anything,” said Carelli’s mother, Maria Saltsman, also of Fonda. Saltsman’s 11-year-old granddaughter, Alexandra Gieseler, bought most of her school supplies at Walgreens when there was a sale.

Stacie Young, a senior team leader at the Niskayuna Target, said sales are steady but she has noticed a drop in back-to-school sales this year.

“Now they’re just getting the basics,” she said. “They’re getting what they can afford and they’re looking for bargains.”

But college supplies are selling better, she said — a shipment of dorm-sized microwaves sold out in two days.

What’s helpful this year is school supply lists provided from local districts.

Young said the lists give a head start to those who may struggle with coming up with the cash for supplies.

Families who receive public assistance — like food stamps and unemployment benefits — have access to a one-time back-to-school supplement of $200 if they have school-age children ages 3 to 17, according to the state governor’s office.

The $175 million in supplements was distributed statewide last week through electronic benefit transfer cards, which are normally used to access public assistance and food stamp benefits.

According to Daria Albini of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, anyone who believes that they wrongly did not receive the supplement should contact their local social services office.

Categories: Schenectady County

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