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Keep the StressOut of Back to School Shopping

By Sara Gilbert

Temperatures are still high and summer activities are still the norm.  Is it possible that the kids will be back in school before we know it? The ads and inserts in the paper are usually my first reminders that  back to school shopping and fall are just around the corner. This can be an expensive month for parents, but a little planning before the shopping might help you avoid the drain on your pocketbook. According to the National Retail Federation the average person with children in grades K-12 will spend $688.92 this year on their children for back to school needs. This is up from $603.63 per average family spent last year.  

If you have planned for this and have the money set aside to get your kids ready for the first days of school pat yourself on the back. Don’t give up though if you aren’t sure you have the money in the bank to make the needed purchases.  There are some things you can do now to cut your family’s expenses and reduce the back to financial stress that might follow the shopping trips.

  • Shop the sales for school items. Many stores sell items like crayons or spiral notebooks at very low cost during August. They do this to get you in the door so not everything you need will be priced so cheaply. Be sure though to stock up on those 25 cent notebooks to get your kids through the year.
  • Before you ever leave the house conduct an inventory of what is in your kid’s closet now. Make a list of what they need and remove what they have outgrown. While you are at it make a bag to drop off at charity, or hand them down to younger siblings.   
  • While you are doing inventory look for backpacks or other supplies from last year that are still in good shape and can be used again. Remember that you are modeling behaviors that your kids will hopefully carry into their adult-hood.
  • As for clothing, consider letting your kids purchase one new outfit out for the first day of school, and put off the rest of the clothing shopping until the sales begin after the season is winding down. 
  • Thrift stores are a great way to spend some time shopping for clothing. Nearly new looking items can almost always be found at really low prices.    
  • Don’t forget items like socks and underwear that may, like the crayons above, be priced  at a really low cost to get you in the door in hopes that you will buy other more expensive items while you are there. Resist those temptations to buy unless it is on your list of needs.  
  • Allow teens to starting managing some of their own financial choices with their back to school shopping. This is a great way to start to hand over some decision making powers and give them a chance to learn some basic money management skills. Depending on your teen’s maturity level, consider giving them a lump sum as their back to school money to spend. Be sure to take the time to discuss with your son or daughter, what they need, the importance of making a list, and how to track the money they have spent so they know where the money went. Be prepared to not bail them out if they spend all their money on expensive designer jeans. It is better that they learn some of these lessons while they are still under your roof!
  • Use the list your school provides for school supplies, and don’t guess on what your kids may need when they return to the classroom. Ask in the school office if there are any programs in your school for families who qualify for reduced or free lunches to get the needed supplies. 
  • If you need to replace the family computer the best time to purchase a computer could be closer to the holidays so you might put this purchase off until later if you can. If you do decide to purchase now shop around and make sure you can get the best deal.
  • Comparison shop. Shop on-line or use an app to compare prices using your smart phone if you have one. On-line shopping also lets you compare the prices of standard items like jeans or a particular brand of shoe. Another benefit to on-line shopping may be that there are fewer temptations to buy more than you intended.
  • Have a plan for how you will pay for the purchases, and don’t use a credit card without a plan to pay the bill when it comes. You don’t want to be paying for this year’s back to school purchases in September a year from now!
  • Can you cut back some of your other expenses this month to free up money for school shopping?  Look at groceries, gasoline, and eating out. Clean out the freezer, and use up some of those saved items so they don’t go to waste and you will have more money to spend on other things. 

Sara Gilbert is Group Manager for the Colorado branch of GreenPath Debt Solutions; a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Views expressed are the personal views of the author, and do not represent the views of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, its employees, its members, or its clients.



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