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Curb School-Year Spending

By Mary Hunt
Founder and Editor of Debt-Proof Living

CBN.comJust when you’re getting used to these lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, here come the compelling ads informing us it’s time to unload our wallets at back-to-school sales. Retailers expect that you will buy an entire year’s worth of clothes for each of your students, not to mention the latest and greatest school supplies. And all that with a credit card! But there is a better way. We can change the rules. We have alternatives.

Here is my best advice to make sure back-to-school shopping doesn’t send you to the poorhouse.

ESTABLISH YOUR SPENDING LIMITS. Time to get real. How much money (not credit) do you have available for back-to-school shopping? Write it down. Then let your kids know there’s a limit. Rather than saying, "That’s all we can afford," say instead, "This is the amount we choose to spend now." Then stick to your guns. When parents say nothing about spending limits, kids assume their resources are unlimited.

ASSESS THEIR NEEDS. Not every child will have the same needs when it comes to school clothes and supplies. What is reasonable for your 9-year-old son might be less than adequate for your 13-year-old daughter. Now divvy up the money you have against the children’s needs and desires, taking all things into consideration.

START WITH A NEW PAIR OF SHOES. There’s nothing like a new pair of shoes to get kids in the mood for the first day of school. Shoes are so satisfying, this will take the edge off the raging case of the “I wants” that your children may have picked up somewhere. A new pair of shoes will even make last season’s clothes perk up.

KNOW YOUR SCHOOL’S DRESS CODE. It may have changed from last year, or if you’re in a new school for sure you need to check. You don’t want to be in the unfortunate position of having to re-buy to comply with set dress standards.

RECYCLE. Passing good condition items down to younger siblings is an excellent idea. And your kids will warm up to the idea with greater enthusiasm if you find clever ways to upgrade them. Add embellishments like buttons and lace to those little girl’s jeans. Perhaps a new T-shirt to go with big sister’s skirt is all your younger daughter will need to see this as an entirely new outfit. Look through catalogs to see what fashion details are hot this year. You’ll be amazed what you can do with only a little effort. Let your kids know that recycling is a great way to make the school clothes money go farther.

DON’T BUY CLOTHES FOR THE WHOLE YEAR. New shoes and a special outfit for the first day help a child feel comfortable and confident.  But it’s not wise to buy a year’s worth of clothes for a child for several reasons. First, kids grow. Second, styles change. And third, kids, like grown-ups, enjoy getting new things. If you get it all new now, everything will be old come January. But if you buy a couple of things now, several more at the after-Christmas sales, and then again in the spring,  it will seem like you’re getting new clothes all the time.

THINK ... SUMMER! What’s on sale now? Summer clothes, right? Well, load up. Many regions of the country will continue to have warm weather right through October and even later if you live in the South. So teach your kids how to layer and they’ll be able to wear summer weights for several more months.

SHOP RE-SALE. There are so many GREAT bargains out there. Check with neighbors and parents in your community. Call consignment shops, and look for garage and tag sales while the weather is still nice. Venture onto eBay ( As long as you know your brands, your sizes, and your prices, you can get some remarkable deals. Teach your kids how cool it is to dress in “vintage” clothes. It’s probably best to stay away from terms like “used” or “thrift,” especially with teens. Re-sale, consignment, and vintage are better terms.

COMPARE BOYS DEPARTMENT VS. GIRLS. Boys’ clothes are often cheaper for the same item, so if your girls can wear boys T-shirts, jeans, shorts, and so on, check it out. It can’t hurt, and you will be surprised to discover the price variation.

PRAY FOR UNIFORMS! In the long run parents of kids who wear school uniforms sing their praises. They save money, time, and hassle. More than that, they report a significant reduction in stress levels both at home and school.

THE LIFETIME BACKPACK. Cheap backpacks will wear out before the end of one year, while a brand name like Jansport or Eastpak will last for many years. Check out Jansport’s lifetime no-hassle warranty at If a zipper breaks, seam pops open, or that warranted backpack gives out for any reason, send it to the company. They will fix or replace it. I have reports from readers whose kids took their original purchase in elementary school on to college. On several occasions, it wasn’t the same backpack (due to replacements along the way), but they made just that single purchase.

SCHOOL SUPPLIES. Check office supply stores for the best price on everything from crayons to binders and notebook paper. When you find a remarkable sale (notebook paper, for example, is dirt cheap but only once a year) stock up for the school year. If you work in an office, keep your eyes open for binders that are hitting the trash, and computer paper that is blank on one side and can be recycled in the classroom and at home. Check with your students’ teachers first; many will accept homework printed on recycled office paper.

LET THE KIDS HELP. Loosening the purse strings and allowing the kids access to the money for their school clothes and supplies might be scary, but it can be amazingly effective. Give your mature children the money you have allotted for their back-to-school shopping, and let them handle it within the guidelines you’ve set and your family’s values. Allow them latitude to make their own decisions without your intervention even if that means they blow their whole clothing amount on a single pair of jeans. A foolish decision? Yes, but one a young lady may not have to learn again, especially when she sees her little sister bought several outfits with the same amount.

Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt is the founder and editor of Debt-Proof Living newsletter, the new finance columnist at Guideposts magazine, an AOL Money Coach and a contributing editor of Woman’s Day magazine. She is the author of 16 bestselling books, and her syndicated Everyday Cheapskate column can be found online and in newspapers nationwide.


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