Tips on How Not to Blow Your Budget with Back to School Shopping

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Ah August. The sun is shining, the grass is burning, the flowers are blooming (or wilting) and we all feel the winds of change off in the distance. It will be back to school time in just a matter of a few weeks for many students.

elementary school

Credit Image: Jeffrey Beall on Flickr


I can hear the collective moaning from kids and the rhythm of the happy dance the parents are doing all at the same time.

My favorite back to school commercial is still the one where the parent is riding happily on the back of the shopping cart, gliding as if in the Ice Capades while the kids walk gloomily behind all to the lyrics of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…..”

My own son will start Pre-School for two days a week this year and I’m torn between being happy that he’ll make new friends and experience new things and sobbing like a baby. I will probably be the one hanging onto his leg wailing, “Please don’t go!” I hope the other parents will still respect me the next day when I do it again.

August causes life to start winding back up to the frenzy pace that summer has subdued if only just a little bit. It’s still hot enough to go to the waterpark, but you now have to take time out to go shopping for school supplies and new clothes.

Newspaper and TV ads are showing their fall lineup and advertising sales for everything from crayons to college dorm room furniture. Like it or not, summer will be winding down fast and will leave us in a whirlwind of spending money and cramming in as much activities as we can.

Saving money is important to all of us so let’s get down to the nitty gritty on how to save money before we go out shopping.

Don’t Feel the Need to Buy Everything Right Now

Retailers will prey on you feeling the need to get all your shopping done right now and in their crafty ways have raised prices on fall clothes. They may lure you in with 25¢ notebooks and free glue, but they’re hoping to make it up on the higher prices you’ll pay for clothes.

Don’t fall for it. Go through last year’s clothes and keep what still fits. Many styles have carried over and despite what your kids might say, most all the kids will be wearing the same clothes they did last year, and no, no one will remember. (Watch out for rolling eyes and heavy sighs) Help your kids adjust to feeling neglected by getting just a few newer pieces or accessories to create new looks with old clothes.

Don’t forget to pull out what you already bought on the clearance rack this last spring in larger sizes. Let me congratulate you on your savvy ways of spending money by shopping out of season. Just be sure to buy your summer clothes the same way here soon.

If the clothes don’t fit, then bag them up, make a list and donate. Make sure to get a receipt as you will want to take it off of your taxes. Have your kids do this as it’s a great way to teach them about giving.

Make a list of what you will need. Actually, make two lists – one for things you need right now (keep that list away from your teen in case she starts adding her own must haves, look for different handwriting from yours as a clue) and one list for things you will need soon. That way you can keep an eye out for sales so you never have to pay full price for something.

Just remember, you should rarely have to pay full price for anything if you can find creative ways to get by till it goes on sale. And nearly everything will go on sale at some point. The key is learning to wait till it does.

Learn to Buy Off the Rack

Your kid may be screaming for those private label jeans, but don’t give in, stay strong. We all know fashion is fickle and what’s in this week will be out before school even starts. So stick with the basics – pants, tops and shoes in color schemes and designs that all complement each other. That way you can mix and match outfits for different looks so your teenage girl won’t die of embarrassment if another girl makes a comment that she wore that same outfit last week. And we all know how torturous a teen girl’s death by embarrassment is….for the parents.

You also may want to check the school’s dress code out before your kids wear you down and you give in for sanity sake and buy those ripped up, overpriced jeans. They may not be allowed at school along with certain revealing or offensive tops. So check school policy before you buy. It also is a great bargaining tool to use with your child. The, “Sorry, it’s not allowed by the school” sure helps to take the heat off of you. Just be sure to send a nice thank you note to the principal for taking the heat and saving you the $50 per pair of jeans you didn’t want to buy in the first place.

Don’t forget to check Goodwill and other resale shops. Many hardly worn clothes are plentiful and buying this way can save you hundreds of dollars. Many of the clothes are new and will have the store tags still on them! Just use a sharp eye to be on the lookout for tears or stains. Take all clothes to the front of the store and look at them in the natural light which will make spotting stains that much easier.

Concerned about bringing bed bugs home with you? Just put your purchases in one of those large zip lock bags and let them bake in the back of your car for a day or so. The heat will kill them off and then bring them in to wash and dry after that.

Get the Kids Involved

Just like kids are more apt to eat more vegetables when they pick those vegetables from their own garden they helped plant, involving the kids in helping with funding the back to school budget will help you spend less and teach them more.

Sheltering our kids from the high cost of living does nothing for them. We need to start teaching our children where money comes from, a.k.a. hard work and show them how much things cost. This will help prepare them for the real world out there and prove to them we all can’t be like the Housewives of O.C. or wherever.

Sit down with your children and show them the lists you have made for what you need now and in the future. Let them have a say in what they want and have them make up their own lists. Have them write down both what they think they need and what they just want. Then do a little online “window shopping” at some of your favorite stores.

Tally up what your child list says and also tally up what’s on your list. This will give you both a glimpse of what it’s all going to cost. (Just remember though you will be waiting for things to go on sale)

After you come to from passing out from the sticker shock, call your child back into the room and ask the question, “So how do you think we should pay for all this?” You’ll get at least one or two shoulder shrugs and a, “I dunno” comment. Ask them again to put down the cell phone and stop texting for a moment to help you figure out a plan on financing their wardrobe.

You will already need to have a set figure in your mind of what you can afford to spend. Oh, and remember to pay cash for everything. You only want to use plastic if you are absolutely sure you can pay the bill of next month. Paying with credit cards causes us to spend more and doesn’t teach the kids about overspending as they can’t see or feel the cash leaving their clenched little hands.

Once you have your budget down, you and your kids need to brainstorm on how to finance it. Maybe you are willing to pick up say 80% of the bill, but they have to come up with ways to pay for the remaining 20%. When you tell your teen this, be sure to remind them that flies will fly into that open mouth of theirs if they hold it open too long. Don’t worry, they will thank you for this lesson when they are parents someday.

If your child doesn’t already have a summer job to help pay for things, then you can “hire” them yourself. There are plenty of what I call “extra” chores that are always needing done.

I’m not advocating paying them for the normal chores everyone has to do to keep the household running, like doing the dishes, grass cutting and normal cleaning, those things are not for paying. I’m referring to the extra things we tend to put off due to lack of time. Maybe its weeding the flower garden that’s been overtaken by crabgrass, or cleaning the summer grime from windows and window sills. It could be vacuuming out the van, washing and yes, even waxing it to help prepare it for winter. How about that fence that needs painting or maybe you have an elderly neighbor that needs help. There are countless ways you can help your child finance their wants and needs (or what they think they need). Get creative and ask for their input on ways to make a little extra money.

When they have to work for it, your kids may come to find it’s not really worth all that extra effort for those overpriced and often really weird looking clothes. And the lesson we teach our children about working for and finding ways to pay for the things we need will be one of the more important things they learn this year.

Well, that and how to negotiate with their parents on the percentage they have to pay for. Did I mention that kids are natural born lobbyists? But I bet you already knew that.

Good luck and please share your ways on saving money with us.

Oh and if you want to watch that funny Staples commercial I referred to at the beginning of this article you can view it here: http://wn.com/Back_to_School_Funny_Staples_Commercial

 

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