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Back-to-school shopping a chance to teach financial tips to kids

By Sara Bauknecht

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (MCT)

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 6 2014 10:01 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 6 2014 10:01 p.m. MDT

This time around, turn shopping for clothes, colored pencils and such for class into a chance to offer children and teens some tips about money management, bargain hunting and personal style.

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Ready or not, Labor Day is a few weeks away, which means so is another school year.

This time around, turn shopping for clothes, colored pencils and such for class into a chance to offer children and teens some tips about money management, bargain hunting and personal style.

Below are some conversation starters to try as you head to the mall with the budding academics in your life:

1. Get kids involved early on

Sure, surfing the Web for apparel and supplies once the kids are snuggled in bed sounds like a more serene approach to back-to-school shopping, but it’s a missed opportunity to teach young ones about savvy shopping. Have a school supply list? Task children with seeing how many of the items they can find at home and what things they’ll need to buy.

“That’s a nice way to get them to think about reusing,” says Deborah Gilboa, a clinical associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh medical school. She also is the author of a new book, “Get the Behavior You Want ... Without Being the Parent You Hate!,” which is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

Have them survey their closets to see what fits, what doesn’t, what still looks good and what can be downgraded to play clothes or donated. Once clothes are categorized into these piles, talk with kids about their choices.

2. Establish a budget

Parents/guardians: Set a budget from the start — and let kids know it exists.

“Your savings needs should determine your spending,” says Gene Natali Jr., co-author of “The Missing Semester,” a financial guide geared toward inspiring young adult readers to take control of their financial futures. “We’re surrounded by constant temptation, but you want to have a budget and you want that amount to be determined by your savings needs.”

But don’t feel pressured to set the same limits for each child, Dr. Gilboa says. Maybe one kid had a growth spurt and needs more clothes than another, for instance, or perhaps an older sibling needs a netbook for typing term papers.

Adults “don’t have to justify that,” she says.

3. Distinguish wants from needs

What commercials call “school essentials” oftentimes aren’t must-haves. Map out before stepping foot in the store what are needs and what would be nice to have only if money is left over. If below budget, consider keeping the money instead of splurging on something extra, and talk to children and teens about strategies for saving money.

“Age is opportunity,” Natali says, meaning that the sooner people start to save the more opportunities they’ll have to provide for the future.

4. Set parameters for personal style — and stick with them

It’s common for kids and adults to disagree about clothes.

“They are expressing individuality by pushing against their family and moving toward their peers,” Dr. Gilboa says, especially for middle school and early high school-aged students. This is normal, she adds.

But rather than viewing this as rebellion, give them the chance to explore their style sense and tap into some trends with a few boundaries. For example, let them know they’re free to pick out whatever looks they want, as long as they don’t sport vulgar messages or images, are below a certain price and don’t show too much skin. But let anything else that follows such guidelines be fair game — even if it’s an outfit Mom or Dad doesn’t understand

5. Share bargain-hunting skills

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