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Joshua Whitney shops for school supplies with his son Joseph, 12, left, and daughter, Sophia, 11, at Target in Council Bluffs on Friday. Prices of many back-to-school items are higher this year because of higher costs faced by retailers that are then passed to consumers.

Summer is right around the corner, and the last thing you want to think about is back-to-school shopping. But every year, this retail event moves earlier into summer, and the amount each family spends is growing. On average, parents of grade-school kids spend $684.79 each year on school supplies.

Throwing the kids in the car for an afternoon of shopping when the August back-to-school sale blitz is in full swing is fun, and it gets kids in the mood for school. But if you’re looking to save on that shocking school supply bill, it’s not the smartest strategy. A better plan is to take advantage of the extended shopping season and spring sales to chip away at your list over time, getting the best prices possible on every item.

Between now and the start of the next school year, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to surf the sales for what you need. Here are the best times to buy everything on your list.

• Electronics. Electronics play a bigger role every year in school, and parents often spend hundreds on these items for their grade-school and college-aged kids. Computer manufacturers know this and release new models from June through September for the back-to-school season. The best time to buy a new computer is in July or August, according to Laptop Magazine. If you are replacing a cell phone for the school season, your best option is to wait to buy just before or right after a new model is released and buy last year’s model. If you must have the latest phone, don’t snap it up as soon as it’s available. Wait a few months—prices usually drop after the excitement dies down.

• Shoes. Shoes are another big expense for parents of K-12 students. Don’t save this purchase for that back-to-school outing with the kids. The best deals depend on what type of shoe you’re buying. The best deals on boots are in the summer when demand is low; the best deals on athletic shoes happen in the spring.

• Clothing. Shopping for a back-to-school wardrobe is fun, but early in the summer is a better time to buy clothes. For the lowest prices, consider buying staples, like t-shirts and socks, in July. The best bargains on warm-weather clothing happen in late August when retailers are clearing out inventory, but know that your options might be limited due to low supply.

• Jeans. If your kids can make it through the first few weeks of school without new jeans, do it. The best deals are in October when retailers slash prices on what didn’t sell in the back-to-school rush. If their jeans are in tatters or the weather won’t allow for this strategy, buy them in the spring when the demand for cold-weather clothes is low, and deals on denim are fantastic.

• Classroom supplies. The cost of notebooks, pens, paper, and backpacks can get expensive. Save this section of your shopping list for that late-summer, back-to-school outing with the kids — you’ll find the best deals the longer you wait. Consider making an exception to this rule for backpacks, since the back-to-school season drives up the price on this necessary item. It may not be as fun for the kids, but buying them during the spring sales will save money.

Back-to-school shopping doesn’t just happen in late summer. Start your shopping in the spring for the best savings and selection on everything your child needs to start the new school year off right.

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Christina Wood covers topics including money-saving advice, technology, and business. She contributes to publications like Family Circle, PC World, Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Science, This Old House Magazine, NASDAQ International, Working Woman, Discovery, Greatschools.org, Jaguar Magazine, and JeanKnowsCars.com. She covers money-saving and shopping tips for Groupon. You can find savings on school supplies and more on Groupon’s JCPenney page here.

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