Shopping for back-to-school supplies can send parents into sticker shock. Aside from standard items such as pencils and papers, students from kindergarten through 12th grade often need—or want—pricier items, such as laptops or headphones.

That partly explains why parents are expected to spend, on average, nearly $688 on back-to-school supplies this year. That's up 8 percent from last year and up 60 percent compared to 10 years ago, according to data from the National Retail Federation, a trade organization.

More on Back to School

The biggest two categories are electronics and clothing, which together comprise about two-thirds of a family’s back-to-school spending, the National Retail Federation says. Basic school supplies, such as pens and notebooks, can set a family back by about $114, making it the smallest spending category. Parents can cut down on their expenses by researching prices and delaying some purchases, says Kristin Cook, managing editor of BensBargains.com, a price-tracking site started by a student at University of California, Berkeley.

While there are good deals to be found in August, some stores will offer even better discounts starting in September, especially with apparel, Cook says. 

Strategies When Buying the Basics

Prices for paper, pens, and pencils don’t vary much by store, but the items do add up. 

Don’t overlook supplies you may already have on hand. Organizing a swap with other parents can also save money. One family might have an extra notebook that they’d exchange for lined paper, for instance.

Because school supplies are relatively inexpensive and priced similarly at various stores, look for retailers that are offering gift cards for purchasing school basics, Cook says. One such deal can be found now at Target, which is currently offering $5 gift cards when customers spend $50 on school supplies. 

Smart Tech Strategies for Electronics

While shopping for all kinds of back-to-school supplies, several apps and services are available to help track prices for big-ticket electronics items, such as Amazon-price tracking service Camel Camel Camel. Parents can enter the URL of a product they want to buy for their kids, like a Chromebook, and receive an email alert when it drops. The site also provides a price history, so you can see when a product hit its lowest and highest prices on Amazon.

If you are shopping for back-to-school supplies at a brick-and-mortar store, bar code scanners such as ShopSavvy app check whether cheaper prices are available elsewhere. The best strategy may be to wait for Black Friday sales on electronics, which now start as early as October, says Cook. If students don’t have an older laptop or tablet to use until the holiday sales kickoff, there are still discounts to be found, although they might not be as deep as those offered later in the year.

Hold Off on Apparel

While growing kids need new clothing, resist buying an entire fall wardrobe in August because retailers typically slash fall clothing prices in September, advises Cook. She recommends buying one back-to-school outfit in August, and returning the following month to score deals on more apparel. That delay also gives students a chance to check out the current fashion trends at school.

Preteens and teenagers are old enough to be involved in budgeting, says Sara Skirboll, a retail and trends expert at RetailMeNot. Even better, give them half of the budget to spend themselves, which will motivate them to stretch their money and find deals. That being said, keep an eye on what they are buying, since many schools have dress codes or standards.