By Bonnie Spain, American Center for Credit Education
Q: I enjoy back-to-school shopping, but no matter how hard we try to avoid it, we always end up in debt. I don’t want to be paying for school supplies until December. Can you give us any suggestions to help us stay on track this year?
A: Back-to-school shopping is the second-biggest shopping season, eclipsed only by the Christmas season. According to a study by Deloitte, 29 million households will spend an estimated 26 billion dollars on back-to-school shopping this year. Given this, it’s easy to see how back-to-school shopping can get out of control. Still, with a few easy steps, it is possible to rein in your spending and avoid the back-to-school debt trap.
First, take an inventory of what you already have for each child. Start with clothing: what fits and what doesn’t? If clothes still fit and are in good condition, then you don’t need to replace them. Make a list for each child that reflects the clothing that he or she still needs.
Next, inventory your school supplies. How many notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons, etc. do you have that are in good condition? When you have a handle on what you already own, download or pick up a school-supply list from your child’s school or at the store. Compare what you have on hand to what you still need.
Take your list of clothing and school supply needs and create one master list for each child. Assign a dollar amount to each item on the list and then tally it all up. If this amount exceeds what can afford to spend, you will need to revise the dollar amount and maybe even the list. Visit with each of your children and find out what is most important to them. Pare down your list to reflect each child’s priorities. Having a plan, in this case a written list, is half the battle.
When you’ve got a solid list, it’s time to shop. If possible, shop with one child at a time. Children often want what their siblings are getting, even it if doesn’t represent a need for them. Every child loves to have his or her parents’ undivided attention, and this is one of those opportunities. To keep emotions out of the equation, shop with your list in hand, and do not deviate from it.
To get the best deals, watch for sales. And remember that you don’t necessarily have to purchase everything in a single trip. If your son or daughter has something new to start the school year, the rest may be able to wait. By waiting, your kids may change their minds or refine their priorities.
With a plan, back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to put you in debt until the holidays. Most of what children learn about money, they learn by watching their parents. So when it comes to shopping for fall, ask yourself: Will my kids see that back-to-school shopping puts us in debt and creates stress, or will they see us take control of our back-to-school shopping with a realistic plan?