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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

Back to School Costs: Stretching Your Dollars

Where did the summer go?  Here it is August and time for back to school supplies!  Back to school time can be an expensive time for families; I know it is for my family. While there's no doubt that children need school supplies, new clothing, and more, some planning ahead may help stretch your dollars.

1) Start by taking an inventory of what you currently have at home and talking with your kids about what they will need.

Many supplies can be reused or recycled. Notebooks, folders, and binders can be reused. Share your used books with friends, relatives, or younger schoolchildren.

2) Make a list before you go shopping. Research indicates that we spend less when we shop with a list.

Once you know what you need, you can keep your eye out for special deals or coupons from stores and pick-up items over time.

3) Spread out your purchases so that you can avoid using credit as much as possible. Avoiding interest charges on credit card bills will save you money.

For example, save some of the school clothing shopping until after school starts. Once the kids see what everyone is wearing this year, certain clothes may become more or less desirable.

4) Use this opportunity as a teachable moment and help your children learn about comparison shopping. Gather up the ads from your local newspaper and have your children do a scavenger hunt. See who can find the best prices and deals for the school supplies that they need. How much for a box of crayons or a binder?

This activity is a good beginning to a conversation about balancing money and time (when is it worth going to multiple stores) as well as the pros and cons of buying name brand products (such as Crayola) versus store brand products.

5) Let teenagers practice budgeting. Rather than battle with your teenager about how much to spend on school clothing and supplies, give them some of the decision-making control. Set a budget, make a list, and then challenge them to make the purchases within the budgeted amount. As a parent you can, of course, set guidelines but allowing the teen some flexibility for choices increases the learning opportunities.

Given the current economy, your budget for back-to-school supplies may be limited. If you're wondering how to talk to your children about the need make choices with your money, take time to read "How Do We Communicate with Our Children about These Economically Stressful Times," at the Getting Through Tough Financial Times website.

Enjoy the last few days/weeks before school starts and happy back-to-school shopping!

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