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A Lesson in Home Economics for Back-to-School

Parents sending their kids back to school this fall of course want them to have the best –  brand new pens and pencils, crisp clean notebooks and a spiffy new backpack.  These items can add up at the register, though, and with more and more schools expecting kids to show up fully stocked, it’s a cost we can’t avoid.  With basic school supplies as well as new clothes, parents can easily spend hundreds of dollars this fall.

One key tip to keep back-to-school shopping costs in check is making a list before leaving the house, so you don’t end up making random, unnecessary purchases.  Most schools provide a basic list as the start of the school year approaches that you can use as a guide.  However, as it is typically a one-size-fits-all list, you may do better to send only the bare minimum with your kids on day one, and talk to the classroom teacher about what’s truly needed beyond that.  Also, go shopping around the house before hitting the stores.  You may find a partial pack of Ticonderogas left over from last year, and a stash of spiral-bound notebooks your kids forgot were there.  Another idea, if you belong to a warehouse club store like BJ’s or Costco, is to buy in bulk, even going in on the purchases with other parents to lessen the sting of those initial purchases.

Once you determine what you really need to buy, consider going shopping without your kids, if you can.  That way you can stick to the list, and even buy generic, without getting pressured by your children to buy the fancier version, or THIS cool thing too, Mom!  You know they’ll decorate those plain-jane folders soon enough.

When it comes to back-to-school clothes, this strategy won’t work as well, but remember, wardrobe shopping doesn’t need to be completed before school begins for the year.  Sweaters and jackets are not usually necessary for Day One, so those purchases can wait while you keep an eye on sales and coupons to maximize your dollars.  Also, take a hard look at what’s already in your kids’ closets – while they may campaign for a whole new wardrobe, unless there’s been a serious growth spurt over the summer, at least some of those clothes may have life left in them.  And for Maryland residents, there is a tax-free holiday scheduled for August 12-18, when clothing and shoe items can be purchased without state or local taxes applied.

Of course, parents can gain something else from the back-to-school shopping experience – the chance to talk to kids about budgeting.  This is a great opportunity for kids to understand the need to prioritize purchases, decide what’s really important, and try to make a finite amount of money cover all their needs and wants.  And keeping their expectations reasonable is a good way to keep the price tag manageable for you, too.

What tips do you have to help parents economize as they send their children back to school?

This guest blog post was contributed by Claudia, an application analyst at Susquehanna Bank.

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Posted in Financial Education, In the Community.

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