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They must not be teaching couponing in school this year. A new survey finds that back-to-school shoppers are using fewer coupons than ever before to stock up on school supplies. That is, if they’ve even started shopping at all.

Depending on where you live, school may already be back in session. But parents of kids who start later are apparently in no big rush to purchase those pens and pencils. According to the National Retail Federation’s newly-released annual back-to-school shopping survey, the average family with children in grades K-12 had completed only 45% of their shopping as of a few weeks ago. Only 13% had completed all their shopping, and 23% hadn’t started at all.

Procrastinators? Perhaps. Or maybe they’re holding out for better deals.

Or not. When deciding where to shop, only 41% of respondents said they’re influenced by coupons. That’s down from 48% last year, and the lowest point in the survey’s 14-year history.

So what’s with all the coupon-free shopping? Are people suddenly willing to pay full price? Not necessarily – they’re just ditching coupons for deal-seeking. 33% said they would seek out sales, and 29% said they would decide where to shop based on newspaper advertising inserts.

Still, all those school supplies won’t come cheap. Families with children K-12 plan to spend an average of $687.72 on clothing, electronics and school supplies, for a total of $29.5 billion. That’s up 8% from last year, and the second-highest in the history of the survey following 2012’s peak of $30.3 billion.

“Families are now in a state of mind where they feel a lot more confident about the economy,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

Of course, there could be another explanation – the deals just aren’t as good as they used to be. Back-to-school coupons and sales these days are relatively lackluster compared to years past. Remember when there were three competing office supply stores, offering doorbuster penny sales on just about every school supply you needed? Remember when you could find coupons like $1 off any Crayola product, no size restrictions, or when 3M imprudently put out PDF coupons that had many shoppers loading up on as much free Scotch tape and Post-it Notes as they could carry?

Those days are long gone. Stores’ and manufacturers’ efforts to tighten up their coupon policies have affected more than just groceries. So you might forgive many parents for not being very eager to begin hunting for school supplies.

“Parents this year have been taking longer than usual to finish buying the clothing and supplies their children need for school,” Shay said. “Anybody who hasn’t finished shopping by now is cutting it close.”

For parents who are bracing to spend more this year, while dreaming of the deals they got in days gone by, their decision to put off back-to-school shopping could be just delaying the inevitable.

In the end, back-to-school time is expensive, no matter how you slice it. Especially if coupons are falling out of favor, which leads to parents spending too much, and their kids having a hard time learning the true value of a dollar.

Maybe they should teach couponing in school after all.

Photo by EvelynGiggles

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