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Parents checking school supply lists

By CLAY WILSON

Kelly Coffey said she plans to do her back-to-school shopping just after midnight Wednesday.

"I haven't been yet," she said Saturday. "I'm going to be at (a store) at 12:01 a.m. Thursday – and beat the crowds."

Like thousands of Clayton and Henry County parents, Coffey will be stuffing a shopping cart with school supplies in the next two weeks. The mother of Alex, a kindergartner, and Sam, a second grader at Henry County's East Lake Elementary School, Coffey has extensive lists of supplies recommended by the school.

"I would say about $50 per child would be a good guess," she said.

Actually, the Consumer Credit Counseling Service predicts that the average family will spend $500 in the course of equipping their children for school.

Even though school starts Aug. 4, Coffey plans to wait until a few days before school starts to do her back-to-school shopping to take advantage of the state's "tax-free holiday," scheduled July 31 through Aug. 3. As it did last year, Georgia is exempting certain school supplies from state sales taxes for a weekend.

Many of the exempted items are on the list Coffey ticked off as essentials for her kids: pens, pencils, writing tablets, "a couple of outfits to get them started and new tennis shoes."

" – You can really save some money on those days," Coffey said of the tax-free holiday.

The CCCS agrees that consumers can save during the four days of the "holiday" – if they make a list of needed items and stick to it.

"Don't buy items just because you want them, or because they are on sale or tax-exempt," the service advises. "Focus on needs, not wants."

Of course, that might become a bit more difficult when parents are faced with children begging for this year's "must-have" back-to-school items.

According to Southlake Mall Marketing Assistant Dionne Key, these include jerseys for males and jersey dresses, drawstring crop pants and peasant tops. And then there is the perennial back-to-school favorite, athletic shoes.

"They're always busy for back-to-school, because everybody buys shoes," said Key of the mall's sporting goods stores.

Athletic shoes are also a popular item at Tanger Outlet Center in Locust Grove, said center General Manager Barbi Baker. They share the list with another all-time favorite, blue jeans; as well as khaki pants, cargo pants and polo shirts.

Baker said the khakis and polos are purchased by students whose schools require uniforms. Neither Clayton nor Henry schools require uniforms, according to school system spokespersons.

But, Baker said, "uniform" backpacks and lunch bags – packs and bags of the same color that actually attach to one another – are hot items this year.

Both Baker and Key said they expect the tax holiday to be busy.

"We are expecting a lot of people," said Key. "(Last year) there was a whole lot of traffic for the tax-free holiday."

To help ease actual traffic on the state's roads, the Georgia Department of Transportation will suspend major construction projects for the tax-free holiday, GDOT spokeswoman Vicki Gavalas said.

Coffey said she hopes to beat the rush by going early Thursday, but noted she'll still have to battle the temptation to buy unnecessary items. That's why (besides the fact that she plans to be shopping around midnight) she intends to leave Sam and Alex at home.

"They would love it, but they're not going because I would end up with twice as much as I need if I took them," she said.