PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – School talk around the kitchen table may center on an economics lesson that’s quite simple: getting your kids ready for the classroom is more expensive than it was last year.

The National Retail Federation expects back-to-school spending, K through 12, to reach a record $41.5 billion or close to $900 per family. To pass this test, parents need a plan.

Shannan Gattling of Virginia Beach has two children preparing to start classes at Achievable Dream Academy. She works from home as a call center representative.

“It is a lot. I watch all the sales. If you don’t plan, you can end up spending way more than you’re expecting to spend.”

She expects to spend a total of $500 to send both of her children back to school.

Common sense economics is a harsh lesson for those with a limited budget.

“That dreaded ‘B’ word, a lot of people don’t want to hear. You need to make a budget for your family,” said Belinda Aboagye, a Financial Educator with Bayport Credit Union.

Topping that back-to-school budget for most families: electronics, and not far behind, clothes, which don’t last long on growing children like Olivia Gattling, who’s starting first grade. Her mother has been watching for online sales and is getting supplies at community events.

“Between May and the first day of school, that’s typically when I start the sporadic shopping,” said Shannan Gattling.

Aboagye says school shopping should not be limited to those weeks before your kids go back to class. “Some stores have sales at different times of the year. So let’s do that extra homework and find out what time of year we can get a better deal; sometimes even 50% off. Don’t feel the pressure that you have to get all the back-to-school clothing now.”

She also advises parents to prioritize by sticking to a budget and buying only the most necessary items for class. “You’re going from what are things I absolutely need to get now? What are those important things? What are things I can wait a few weeks, maybe a few months, or maybe next school year to get?”

One past strategy shoppers can no longer rely on is saving is the Virginia sales tax holiday. It was allowed to sunset this year, but some state lawmakers say they are working on an amendment to the budget to reinstate that break before the fall.

A big back-to-school expense is school supplies. 10 On Your Side has teamed up with the United Way for our annual Operation School Supplies campaign. Find a drop-off location near you, or click here to make a cash donation.