Back-To-School Shopping Secrets

by Teresa Randall

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Back-to-school shopping has always been an exciting event for me. As a child, I eagerly anticipated that special time of choosing new clothes and buying fresh notebooks and yellow pencils. As an adult with three school-aged children, I also look forward to this time because of the shopping system I developed last summer.

Frustrated by my previous attempts to buy new clothes that my children would actually wear, and irritated by their protests at my color choice of a pencil box or backpack, I finally devised a method for back-to-school shopping.

I begin setting aside a few dollars each payday throughout the summer so that the cost of these necessities won't threaten our family budget.

Then, throughout the summer, I remind my children (first, fifth, and sixth graders) that they "get to" go shopping in mid-August for their supplies. They all respond positively to these reminders.

As summer vacation winds down, I help each child go through her or his current wardrobe to determine what still fits, what still looks nice (no holes, no stains, no irreparable rips), and together we make a list of their clothing needs, including undergarments, socks, shoes, coats, gloves, and backpacks.

Then, I pair this list with their school's supply list, and we go shopping. But here's the beauty of this system. After making the list, I determine how much money I would reasonably spend per child on their clothes plus supplies, and then I let them shop. I take them to several discount stores where they buy supplies. And they buy the majority of their clothing at area thrift stores, where they find brand-name clothing in like-new condition.

Granting each child freedom in how they spend their back-to-school funds allows each child to determine their own priorities. For example, with a picky teenager, this method allows her or him to have the choice of spending most of the funds on a fancy jacket or pair of overpriced sneakers. They can choose to have the more expensive clothing (or backpack or locker organizer), but then there will be little left for their other necessities, which requires a stop at a discount store for undergarments and t-shirts. This method transfers the freedom, choices, and responsibility onto the child, and teaches lasting lessons in money management to boot.

This method is a tremendous teaching tool; each child is learning how to budget their money, how to look for bargains where it doesn't matter (lined paper and erasers), and how to get the best value for their cash. This system also teaches planning strategies and is a delightful parent/child time. It has eliminated my frustration and theirs as they choose (and then must live with their choices) what supplies they like (usually the cheapest ones now) and what they want to wear, within the boundaries of good taste and modesty.

Why do the kids find this such an exciting time? They keep whatever money they have left after buying everything on their lists. I believe that their efforts towards self-care and maintenance are worthy of acknowledgement, and allowing my kids to keep whatever money is left is not only a great incentive for them to learn money management, but a way to reward them for their efforts.

I love accompanying my children as they shop, and I often point out the better bargains, or remind them of how much they still have left to buy. I keep track of their lists and cross things off as they put them into the cart. Both of my sons have become great bargain hunters and would much rather buy the cheap notebooks and markers to leave more money for themselves. My young daughter is learning as well. They are setting their priorities at an early age, and helping to ease the stress on Mom when they take the decision making upon themselves. Plus, a financial mistake at 11 years old is much easier to cope with than a mistake at 31, with a too-heavy car loan or mortgage payment.

Last summer, both of my boys completed their lists and had around $30 each to spend on themselves, which, for a pre-teen boy, looks like a million bucks. You can believe they are eager to shop for school supplies again this summer.

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