NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It's hard to say "no" to opening your wallet for school supplies. And although the average American family is planning to spend $606 on back-to-school supplies and clothes this year, according to the National Retail Federation, there are ways you can be smart about shopping for the start of the school year and cut your costs.
You don't have to give in to the urge to buy new school clothes. You may not need that first day of school new outfit. Check your closets and take an inventory of your child's clothes and shoes.
How many sweatshirts do you need this school year? Have your kids really outgrown their jeans, shoes and sneakers? Have them try on clothing. Donate what doesn't fit to charity or host a clothing swap. Decide who to invite to the swap based on the ages, sizes and gender of their children.
Throw a search party for school supplies in your home and have your kids look for what they need. Buy what you are missing from a dollar store. Buy in bulk and avoid the last-minute drive for needed supplies.
Remember to watch for advertised rebates during the back-to-school season. Many national drug store chains offer school supply sales that in addition to rebates could result in free items.
And read the teacher's list with a careful eye. Have all of the essentials backpacks, lunch boxes, notebooks, pencils and glue but delay buying specialty items like calculators, as some teachers change their requirements.
If you need day care for a child, age 12 or younger, so you can work or look for work, you can claim a federal income tax credit.
"Regardless of your family's income, you're entitled to a tax credit for qualified dependent care expenses. This credit can be up to 35% of your qualifying expenses, depending upon your income," said tax expert Barbara Weltman.
Lower income workers can get a 35% credit, which phases downward to 20% for those with adjusted gross income of more than $43,000.
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