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Credit Counseling with the Sudbury Community Service Centre

A Shopper’s Survival Guide: Back to School

When it comes time to buy back-to-school supplies and clothing for their children, many parents could benefit from an old teacher’s adage.

“Prepare ahead of time and don’t leave things to the last minute.”

But, many parents do just that.

September will bring a fresh start to the school year and this means an increase in costs for new supplies and clothes for students according to a recent poll. Whether your child is kindergarten or high school bound, expenses can easily get out of hand if you don’t have a budget in mind before setting out for back to school shopping. A little planning now can help stretch your spending funds and teach the students in your family good spending habits that will serve them well into adulthood.

“We certainly find that people don’t plan enough for (back to school shopping),” said Linda Morel, executive director of the Sudbury Community Service Centre.

That lack of preparation can mean paying high interest rates on unpaid credit card balances, coughing up too much for items that may be cheaper at other stores or purchasing goods your son or daughter doesn’t really need.

Once the start of elementary and high school classes is about four-days away, parents should sit down with their children and compile a list of necessary school needs, not wants, before even thinking about stepping inside a store. A definite maximum budget dollar figure prevents money management problems, stated Ms. Morel.

“You’re better to stick to a limit on what you want to spend”, she continued.

“When you’re using a credit card, it’s easy to over spend because you’re not limiting yourself to a certain amount.”

If your son or daughter attends high school and has a part-time job, parents should consider asking him or her to contribute towards the cost of school supplies, but especially new fashions.

“The older they are, the more expensive things get with clothing,” said Ms. Morel.

“Once they start contributing, they realize the difference in cost between getting something generic and brand name.”

Canadian parents surveyed during the summer of 2002 said they planned to spend an average of almost $1,100 on back-to-school clothes, binders and other supplies for their children come back to school season..

Leger Marketing, which did the survey, found families plan to spend $391 on school supplies and $707 for clothes for elementary and high-school students.

It’s a major expense, similar to Christmas gifts and automobile repairs, and parents should put aside some money each month towards the expected cost.

“Living expenses are things that you should always be able to pay for in cash,” continued Ms. Morel.

“If not, it means you’re spending more than you’re making and you’re going to start getting into trouble

The Credit Counseling Service of the Sudbury Community Service Centre offers the following tips to help you survive back to school shopping:

• Set a budget and stick to it. This is rule number one of wise money management. Make a list of what your children really need for school and what some of their “wants” are. We are all bombarded at this time of year with advertisements touting the latest sales and products. Take advantage of these ads to compare quality and price, but stick to your list!

• Have your children help take inventory of their clothes and supplies, and help them separate necessities from desires. Preteens and teens can be tempted by aggressive ad campaigns for the latest “must have” fashions and school accessories, but if they have worked through a budget plan with you, they will be aware of spending limits and recognize that making trade-offs are part of the budgeting process. “You can’t start too young on getting your kids to understand the value of money,” continues Ms. Morel.

• Allow your children to use some of their own money to trade-up on certain items. For example, you can set a limit on what you will pay for a pair of running shoes or jeans. Your children can top it up with their own money if they want a particular brand. This process will help them think more carefully about their spending habits and give them ownership over their decisions.

• Older teens with part-time jobs should be more responsible for their own expenses. Parents may want to offer to pay for needed items such as school clothes and initial supplies, but anything considered a “want” could be paid for by the teen. That expensive binder, computerized agenda organizer, or latest cell phone may suddenly lose its luster when your teen realizes he/she has to pay for it out of his/her own pocket. On the other hand, younger kids may be more than happy to clean out their savings accounts to get what they want, so you may have to step in to restrict their “top up” spending.

• Consider postponing back to school shopping until your children are back in school. Not only are you more likely to get the same, if not better sale prices, you’ll avoid the crowds and the mad rush. Waiting for teachers’ lists can also help you determine exactly what supplies are required and save you unnecessary expense. Keep in mind that the ongoing costs of clothing, supplies and school trips should be a part of your annual budgeting. You don’t have to buy everything for the entire year now.

• Consider the cost of extracurricular activities such as sports, clubs and ongoing weekly activities which your child will want to participate in (pizza day, hot dog day, etc.) and budget accordingly.

Be a back to school shopping survivor. Take a little time to plan your budget and treat your children as active partners in the process. In addition to saving your family money, the experience can be a positive, valuable learning experience for your children.

For more information contact the Sudbury Community Service Centre at (705) 560-0430 or 1-800-685-1521.




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