As lawmakers continue to wrestle with ways to get the country's debt under control, households are having similar conversations on a much smaller scale.
At least two recent surveys are showing parents will be making trade-offs in order to get the kids back to school without busting the bank.
With economic reports such as July's ISM manufacturing indexshowing signs of an economic slowdown, it increasingly looks like the outlook for economic growth in the second half of the year is hinging on consumer spending.
But what consumers are saying isn't all that encouraging.
Last week, American Express released its "Spending and Savings Tracker," and the survey found more than two-thirds of the 800-plus parents polled are planning to make trade-offs to cover back-to-school expenses. These options include dining out less, spending less on entertainment and buying fewer clothes for themselves.
A separate survey, conducted by Research Now on behalf of Accenture, also showed parents were sacrificing. A similar number, some 60 percent of the 624 adults surveyed, said they would spend less on themselves at back-to-school time to ensure they can buy their children what they need.
The "dread" factor also is on the rise. About 29 percent of the parents said they "dread" back-to-school shopping, compared with the 25 percent who responded this way last year.
Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi said, in a research note, that he expects to see "boom and bust periods in retail."
Sozzi expects a weak jobs picture is keeping consumers on edge, and as a result, consumers remain fixated on saving and deleveraging.
As states—and now the federal government—consider spending cuts, more government jobs will be on the line, he said, and the effects can send ripples elsewhere.
As an example, he cited Office Depot's recent comments. The office-supply retailer reported weak sales in California, and attributed that to job reductions in the state.
But at the moment there is an expectation the season is getting off to a good start.
According to Thomson Reuters, analysts expect chain-store sales in July to rise 4.1 percent. That's better than last year, when same-store sales gained 2.8 percent.
Citigroup analyst Deborah Weinswig raised many of her estimates for July. With this year's July the warmest one in 116 years, shoppers were inspired to buy summer clothes on clearance, and they started to purchase some items for back-to-school, she said.
Retailers will issue their July same-store sales reports on Thursday.