Credit Counseling with
the Sudbury Community Service Centre
A Shopper’s Survival Guide: Back to
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
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
“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
“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
It’s a major expense, similar to Christmas gifts and automobile repairs,
and parents should put aside some money each month towards the expected
“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
• 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
• 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.