Though some students never want summer to end because they “hate school”, back-to-school shopping always seems to be an exciting time for children. Let’s face it – who doesn’t like getting new things, even if its pens/pencils, notebooks, crayons, school uniforms, and graphing calculators? Last year, parents spent more than $22 billion on students attending K-12, and an additional $46.8 on college students, according to the NRF.
For parents looking to give their children all the tools necessary to be successful in school, why not also provide them an education in managing their finances? While shopping, parents can discuss money management and point out good financial habits. Have a serious conversation with your teenage children about how your family intelligently manages its finances and what steps you are taking to live a comfortable lifestyle now and in your future retirement.
Set A Budget And Stick With It
Many of us have a soft spot for our children. We want to keep them happy and give them all the things they could ever want. And in some cases, we just want to keep them from causing a scene at the mall.
When it comes to back-to-school shopping, parents usually know best what the family can or can’t afford, and it’s extremely important you communicate this to your kids. Before arriving at the mall, make sure each student knows what he or she needs for the school year, and how they will be allocating their spending. Make sure to assign a budget on how much he or she has to spend on school supplies, clothing, shoes, and technology, and enforce it. Stressing the importance of sticking to your budget is just as important as creating one.
Make A List and Check It Twice
Planning ahead is probably one of the most valuable things you can teach your kids. Knowing what you need allows you to research, comparison shop online, and find sales or discounts to get a value, as well as avoid multiple trips to the store, adding to the indirect costs of shopping such as time, gas, and mileage. Making a list also avoids compulsive shopping by separating what is necessary and required versus products that are simple “wants” with minimal value-add.
In the end, your teens will be able to effectively allocate their money. If a cute outfit costs $50 or a pair of running shoes is on sale for $90, and the total budget for clothes is $200, your student will realize that they may not be able to afford all the other items on their list. The real lesson here will be getting them into the habit of telling themselves “No, I just can’t have it right now”, and really, self-control and discipline is half the battle when managing your own finances.
Shop In The Off Season
Most women know this strategy very well. Unless you are starring in the “Real Housewives of Orange County”, no one is judging to see you if you are wearing the latest fashion trends, much less your children and their peers. Now, this isn’t to say you should send your teens to school in your husband’s old school, purple MC Hammer pants (someone may call Child Services), but discuss what items need to be purchased now and which ones can wait till later in the school year when there might be sales. Buy the on-sale summer clothes during winter and your winter clothes in the summer – you will likely save up to 50-70%.
The same goes for new computers or laptops. Every computer manufacturer is planning that students will get in back-to-school mode and ask for a new PC or Mac to research and write their essays. Word processing is the most basic of computer functions and requires very little processor power, RAM, or hard drive space. Whatever PC you have right now will be able to handle Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. Wait till the PC industry’s revenues stagnate, between the start of school and Black Friday/Christmas season, and swoop in for a good deal. Furthermore, this strategy of shopping later can also offer you leverage when insisting your students get high grades before you will purchase something they want.
Shop Around Beforehand and Bring Your Smartphone
The average family with kids K-12 spent about $600 on back-to-school shopping in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation. Since we research prices and comparison shop for everything from car insurance to televisions to furniture, why not do the same for the school supplies, clothing, shoes, calculators, and products we plan to buy our kids for the start of the school year?
With Amazon recently introducing same-day shipping, dozens of other online retailers offering price comparisons, and smartphones with free apps to help you find the best deals at the closest locations, getting the lowest prices before and during your shopping spree is easier than it’s ever been. Some smartphone apps even let you scan barcodes to compare prices and availability online and in-store. There is no reason you should ever have buyer’s remorse for overpaying.
In the end, the best way to help your children manage their personal finances in the future is to communicate with and educate them. Share your past experiences, successes and mistakes, as well as what you learned from them and the steps you recommend they take to avoid your past failures. Open their eyes to the financial world by explaining credit cards, checking and savings accounts, investment options such as CDs, stocks and bonds, your home mortgage, and how money can offer independence and freedom.
Show them how all the little things we spend on, from food/drink, mortgage or rent, water, electricity, gas, internet service, home/cell phone service, cable or satellite TV, cars, insurance, electronics, etc., all add up to an enormous amount of money. And that’s not even figuring taxes, investments, and the fun stuff like Disneyland and vacations.
If your teen absorbs even 25% of your discussions, you may have just saved him/her and yourself thousands of dollars in future debt.