Financial caution pays off in stocking up for school

By By Claudia Buck

The Sacramento Bee (MCT)

Published: Monday, Aug. 26 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Suzanne Hales (center), of Draper, goes back-to-school shopping with her children at Target in Midvale in this August 9, 2008, file photo.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

August marks the last, dwindling days of summer.

For families, it also means that if the kids aren’t already back in school, they’ll be heading to class in just a few weeks. And that means shelling out lots of dollars on everything from new socks and sneakers, to new backpacks and paper pads.

This year, the average U.S. family with K-12 kids will spend $634.78 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, according to an annual back-to-school survey by the National Retail Federation. That’s about $54 less than in 2012, which was a banner year for school spending, coming out of the recession.

Parents are being a little more cautious, doing their back-to-school shopping “with cost and practicality in mind,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “Having splurged on their growing children’s needs last year, parents will ask their kids to reuse what they can for the upcoming school season.”

With that in mind, we gathered some money-saving advice from local parents and national experts:

—Take inventory: Go through closets, dressers, desks and drawers. If Cooper already has three pairs of jeans that fit, you may only need one more pair. Same with pencils, felt-tip pens and other school supplies. Only stock up on what your kids truly need.

“Last year’s school scissors are still sharp and last year’s pencils still write,” said Pam Farley, a Sacramento, Calif., mother of two who blogs at BrownThumbMama.com. “Buy only what the teacher suggests, not every shiny, new back-to-school item.”

Make a back-to-school list for each child and set an amount you can comfortably afford to spend. Yep, it’s a budget.

—Give kids a say: Involve your kids in the budgeting process, including how much money is available to spend.

“Get them involved in prioritizing expenses between ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves,’ ” says personal finance website PracticalMoneySkills.com, which has a back-to-school budget calculator for students.

When shopping, take a printed budget with you and have your kids or teens fill out the amount of each purchase.

As an added incentive, offer to split the savings with your kids if the back-to-school shopping comes in under budget.

—Be label-wary: Teens and even young kids can be label-conscious, wanting just the right brand name on their backpack or jacket. But it can be risky to buy all the latest gotta-have-it apparel or accessories. The TV show your youngster adores today might be too uncool-for-school next month and he’ll refuse to wear the logo T-shirt or carry the lunchbox, no matter how much you spent.

(Of course, if your child attends a school that has a dress code or requires a uniform, you have less to worry about.)

Give teens choices, especially when they’re clamoring for trendy, pricey sneakers or designer jeans. If it’s beyond your budget, let them figure out how to buy it cheaper. Wait till it goes on sale, find something similar at a consignment store, swap with friends, etc.

Farley recommends what her father did when she desperately wanted a pair of Birkenstock shoes in high school: He offered to pay half and she had to save up the rest.

“When (teens) have to earn it or use their birthday money, it makes them think harder about their choices,” she said.