MARIETTA -Sisters Makayla and Fay Salisbury are both Justin Bieber fans, but only one of them will be returning to Sardis Elementary School this month with the pop star on her backpack.
"I'm not going to pick out the Justin Bieber because none of my class likes him," said Fay, a 7-year-old heading into the second grade, who opted to go with puppies instead of the source of "Bieber Fever."
"None of my class likes him either, but I'm getting it anyway," smiled a defiant 6-year-old Makayla, an incoming first-grader.
Makayla Salisbury, front left, and her brother William emerge from the Marietta Kmart Friday followed by their mother Amanda, back left, and sister Fay. The family from Sardis, Ohio, did a portion of its back-to-school shopping Friday, picking up backpacks, lunch bags and shoes. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
The girls were at the Marietta Kmart on Friday with their family to take care of part of their back-to-school shopping.
"We're doing backpacks, lunch pails and shoes today," said their mom, 28-year-old Amanda Salisbury of Sardis. "We'll do supplies later."
The Salisburys aren't the only ones hitting the stores lately, with schools around the region set to open later this month. According to the National Retail Federation, the average family will spend $688.62 equipping its kindergarten-through-12th-grade students with everything from new clothes to pens, paper, crayons and more.
Amanda Salisbury didn't blink at the figure.
"We try to bargain shop as we can," she said. "It's expensive, it really is. It's hard, especially these economic times."
Along for the ride Friday were Fay and Makayla's 4-year-old brother, William, and 3-year-old cousin, Larissa, who were getting in on the back-to-school action with backpacks of their own, even though they're not starting school yet.
School supply lists available at local stores include scissors, crayons, tissues, baby wipes, pencils, three-ring binders, glue, composition notebooks, markers, art smocks, small dry erase boards and even headphones for use with school laptops among the materials needed for specific grades.
A release from the NRF says its annual survey shows that even though the economy is still on the minds of most parents doing back-to-school shopping, they plan to spend more in 2012 after cutting back last year.
"When it comes to their children, there's nothing more important to a parent than making sure their children have everything they need, even in a tough economy - and especially when it comes to back-to-school shopping," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in the release. "Backpacks rip, pencils break, and children grow, there's no way around it, but as they begin tackling their shopping lists, parents will make sure to spend smarter than they ever have before."
Some students are planning to shop smart too, like incoming Warren High School senior Grace Bailey. The 17-year-old said she wants good quality clothing and supplies, but she's learned how to save money while getting them.
Bailey said she buys a new backpack just about every year, but doesn't want to shell out $60 for the latest Jannsport product.
"Go to T.J. Maxx, and they have last year's for $20," she said.
Bailey also likes to get clothing at T.J. Maxx, as well as Tanger Outlets in the Columbus area, where she once purchased a new Hollister shirt for $5. She also checks local thrift stores, finding clothes that "are just like new."
New Matamoras resident Tammy Bookman, 35, spent more than usual on at least one item for her 9-year-old son Caleb this year, albeit unintentionally.
"I paid $28 for a backpack," she laughed. "I didn't see the price tag on it (and) he wanted it."
At least it's not an annual purchase for the Bookmans.
"We haven't actually bought a new backpack since he got a new one at Cabela's in Wheeling probably three or four years ago," she said.
While Bookman said she's a last-minute back-to-school shopper, the NRF says many people planned to start buying early this year. One-fourth of those surveyed indicated they would start at least two months before the first day of school.
That trend has been reflected locally, said Dan Laughlin, store manager for Wal-Mart in Marietta.
"A lot of them do try to get a jump ... especially the stuff that we sell below cost," he said, citing examples like glue sticks, notebook paper and spiral notebooks.
Laughlin said he expects traffic to increase as the opening days approach, but those dates won't mark the end of the rush.
"A couple days after schools open it's still a busy time because they've not gotten this or they've not gotten that," he said.
Some help is available locally for families struggling with the cost of back-to-school items, through entities like Washington-Morgan Community Action, as well as service organizations and churches.
The Washington County Child Support Enforcement Agency is holding random drawings for backpacks filled with school supplies. These can be entered by parents with an active case at the agency.
J.C. Penney Salon in the Grand Central Mall in Vienna is offering free haircuts for children in kindergarten through sixth grade throughout the month of August.
Of course, students and parents aren't the only ones preparing to go back to school.
Teachers purchase a number of supplies for their classrooms, and a pair of retired Newport Elementary educators are offering others a way to stock up while saving money.
"Between us it's like 65 years worth of teaching and 65 years worth of junk," laughed Brenda Wingrove.
"Supplies," corrected fellow retiree Maryanne Grose, with whom Wingrove was having a yard sale of classroom decorations, supplies, games books and more Friday and Saturday off Browns Road in Reno.
"Basically the room is just empty," Wingrove said. "Except for the textbooks, whatever goes within, you have to fill it yourself."
Grose said they saw between 75-100 people stop by the sale Friday morning, with home-school parents and church groups represented along with teachers.