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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money
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Back to school shopping: It’s as Easy as A-B-C and 1-2-3

I saw my first television ad for back to school supplies on July 1 this year and I just shook my head. For many school-aged children, especially in the Midwest, school has barely ended for the year and they are reminded that it is all about to start over again. Why, they have not had a chance to get bored yet!

My all-time favorite commercial shows a dad shopping for his two children. He was jumping and dancing down the aisles as his daughter and son looked bored… and embarrassed. The song playing in the background was "it's the most wonderful time of the year".

It's ironic that a Christmas song was playing during that commercial because according to the National Retail Federation, the money spent during back to school season is second only to Christmas! Between K-12 supplies and clothing and the back to college group, parents spend more than $72 billion dollars.

It certainly is not the most wonderful time of the year for parents and their wallets. The Retail Federation also breaks out the average amounts spent per child-$581 for elementary school students, $682 for middle school students and a  $683 for high school students. If you have multiple students in multiple grades, back to school can feel like a second mortgage. However, it doesn't have to be. Here are a few simple strategies to get maximum value this year and how to plan for next year so your wallet won't cry out in pain!

First, follow these A-B-C's

A= Assemble lists and ad papers. Find the supply lists for the grades of each of your children and make one master list of supplies needed. If one child needs two boxes of tissues and one needs three boxes of tissues-you need 5 boxes total-now you can look for a bulk deal and cover both children.

Also, gather the ad papers for all the stores carrying back to school supplies. You would be surprised at all the different stores that carry supplies including some home improvement stores and dollar stores. Don't assume the stores that say they have the lowest prices do.

B=Budget how you are going to spend your money. Without a creating a limit you will spend too much. Take last year's total and try to spend less this year. Use our Back to School Planning Worksheet-click here to download and print. If you are truly unsure of how much money you should budget, set your limits in terms of descriptions- only buy what is on the school supply lists. Only allow each child one "trendy" item like a popular character back pack or note book for example and then purchase plain (less expensive) notebooks after that. Only buy one or two new outfits for the beginning of school and buy the remaining school clothes as the year progresses.

C=Cash-no credit cards. You don't want to add to the already escalating cost of back to school by adding the interest you will pay by adding these expenses to your credit card balance. The exception would be if you pay your balance in full every month and if you have a rewards card so you get something in return. Keep in mind though, when you use plastic (debit or credit cards) research shows people spend on average 30% more than when they use cash. Cash is a great budgeting device- it is a visual representation of how much you are spending and when it is gone…. You have to stop!

And these 1-2-3's:

  1. Don't shop for supplies/clothes all at once. Stores are offering deals every week between now and the middle of September. Buy as much as you can on sale and as little as possible on full priced items. Stores should have clearance sales on summer clothes that will take your kids through most of the first quarter. Save buying the fall/winter clothes until it is a bit cooler.
  2. Do not take kids with you on most of your shopping trips, if you can help it. They are masters at impulse shopping which can easily bust your budget. Two kid friendly strategies would be to take them on a special trip for that one special trendy item they must have- a superhero backpack for example! The other is to give them a small budget for something- backpacks, special notebooks, first day outfit. This allows them some freedom and teaches them about budgeting. For high school aged kids- give them their clothing budget and tell them how long it has to last (the semester for example) One mother I know did this and her daughter immediately switched shopping in high end department stores and instead shopped consignment stores and sales.
  3. Save a chunk of your budget for items requested by teachers that are not on the list! Also for items that will need to be replaced during the year because they are worn out or outgrown!

Finally, save all your receipts from this year as well as your budget worksheet. Grab a copy of the supply list for your child's grade for next year. Use these to plan next year's budget and begin putting a little money away each month for Back to School 2015. It will be here sooner than you think!

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