The beginning of a new school year can be an exciting time, but back-to-school costs can stress parents.
Expenses — enrollment fees, activity/ rental fees, lunch payments, and supplies, for example — add up. So does the cost of new shoes, clothing and incidentals, like a class field trip, admission to sporting events or a school play.
Thinking like a businessperson can, however, help parents reduce the stress of back-to-school shopping. In fact, following good business practices also may help stretch the funds available. Here are some suggestions to be businesslike with back-to-school shopping tips:
Make a list of the must-haves. School districts provide a list of enrollment costs, lunch fees and supplies. The list is readily available at the stores or through the school district office. Parents should keep a list of fixed expenses.
Make an inventory of what you already have. The inventory process, which usually also involves sorting, can help parents and children identify what still is usable. Then they can set aside outgrown, but still usable items, for others in the family, community thrift shop or clothing exchange.
Teaching children to consider the needs of others is a lesson that can come from the inventory process. It also reminds children of what they have, and may help them be more able to differentiate between needs and wants.
Assess the difference between usable and acceptable. Usable items may not always be acceptable — some worn clothing items may be best reserved for after-school play. If resources permit, plan to supplement hand-me-downs with some new purchases.
Prioritize expenses. Cover immediate and essential needs like enrollment fees, school lunch fees, and any special required items first.
A child's age, interest and current growth rate influence expenditures, but parents sometimes say they prefer to postpone purchases until after school starts so that children can see what others are wearing.
One good strategy might be to keep some money available for later purchases. Postponing the purchase of a new winter coat until cool weather is imminent also can be advisable, particularly for a child who is growing rapidly.
Time available at home also is a factor. For example, if a child is growing rapidly, parents may want to purchase fewer clothing items and plan to do laundry more frequently.
Consider a compromise. The choice of basic clothing or spending more for designer clothing or the latest character lunch box can challenge parents.
Children can feel intense pressure to fit in and may want one or more items that other children have. Trying to accommodate them occasionally or compromising on a specific item can help make a child feel more accepted. Parents should strive for balance.
If a child routinely wants more than their parents can afford or think they should spend, it may be time to consider an allowance that covers such expenses. Shifting the decision-making power usually ends arguments. Allowing an older child to spend their own money' also often results in more careful decisions.
Check a store's return policy and/or guarantees before buying. Check purchases for flaws before leaving the store. Check them again immediately after purchase.
Weigh quality and price. Spending a little more on a winter jacket that can be worn more than one season usually offers more for the money than a garment like a costume or trendy shirt that may be worn for a short time.
Consider the length of time items like a backpack or calculator will be needed.
Save receipts and place them in an envelope or folder.
Use credit with caution. If paying with a credit card rather than cash, check or a debit card, assess what you can reasonably pay when the bill is likely to come.
Charging more than you can comfortably afford to pay may reduce the ability to accommodate other upcoming expenses.
Paying interest on extended payments also adds to purchase price.
Back-to-school shopping trips can be good one-on-one experiences for parents and children, particularly when children have been involved in the inventory process. When you go shopping, take the inventory list with you.
Shopping when stores are least likely to be crowded and at a time when both parent and child are well-rested is recommended. Waiting until the last minute is almost guaranteed to add stress.
Jana McKinney is a McPherson County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.