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Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping with a Team Effort

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It’s that time of year again. The kiddies will be starting back to school soon and parents will be searching for the best deals on binders, lunch boxes, and pencils. To help you save money, and keep your sanity while shopping this year, include your children in the decision making process.

First things first
Students tend to have similar needs from year to year. Ask your students to bring all the backpacks, calculators, pencils, erasers, binders, etc. from last year to the table. Ask your child what they used last year, what they needed more of, what they didn’t use very often, and how they used the items mentioned. Take stock of what everyone has, what needs to be replaced, and what can be mended or repurposed.

Consider value and cost
Now that you’ve taken a look at what you need to purchase, it’s time to consider what the best value buys are. If you find yourself saying, “I bought you seventy-five of those last month and you’re telling me you’ve used them all!” then it may be time to figure out if the quality of the item isn’t that good, your child is misusing the items, your child is losing the items, or some combination of all three. Sometimes items are priced more cheaply than others because they are more cheaply constructed. Choose items that will cost you less by not having to purchase so many. For example, what good is a $10 backpack that you’ll have to buy three times during the school year because the straps keep breaking? Purchasing one $25 backpack at the beginning of the year will end up saving you $5.

Create a list and stick to it
Okay, now you have a list of the things you need to purchase. Have you taken a moment to write down the estimated cost of each item? It’s important that you have a dollar amount in your head for each item so you don’t get caught up in the emotion of shopping and spend more than you intended.

The other great reason to create a list is to help your child get on board with finding the items and staying under budget. This will teach your child how to use a spending plan and create some positive energy around financial education. Remember to ask your child if there is something specific they would like on the list. If your spending plan for school supplies has a bottom-line number, ask your child to find a way to use the existing money to purchase the needed supplies and the item(s) they want. You’re creating a situation for critical thought, personal empowerment, practice of mathematical concepts, and ownership. Way to go parents!

Get things for free
There are several programs that collect things for back-to-school drives every year and give them out. Ask around to find out who is doing what. Another great option is asking local businesses or local financial institutions what items they may have available. Many places have items such as calculators, pencils, etc. that they use for promotional purposes that they will give away to students when asked. Remember, if you don’t ask then you don’t get.

Come up with some cash
Sell things that you don’t use anymore to free up some money for back-to-school purchases. Have your children get involved by rounding up items around the house that are no longer used. Put the items on Craigslist.org or have a garage sale. Anything that you get rid of is clearing physical space in your home, clearing mental space in your psyche, and putting dollars in your hand.

Find the deals
Now that you have a list with dollar amounts, you’ve crossed off a few items because you got them for free, you have cash in your pockets from the garage sale, it’s time to go out and find some deals. This is the easiest part of the adventure. Circulars are mailed to your home every week advertising ten cent pencils and ninety-nine cent folders. Take a moment to really look through each ad and make a list of which items you want to get from each store. This is a great activity for children. You already have you list outlining how many of each item you want to purchase at what price, so encourage your children to scour the ads for deals. It may surprise you how good they are at it. If they need some encouragement, tell them that they can keep the difference between the sale and what you expected to spend.

Including your student in the process of back-to-school shopping is a fun way to get involved with their educational needs and spend some time together while saving money. Let me know if you have any more great tips for saving money while back-to-school shopping.

Shay Olivarria is the most dynamic financial education speaker working today and the author of three books on personal finance. Visit her at www.BiggerThanYourBlock.com.

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