Back to school costs increase; shop wisely to save money

Tobie Blanchard, Tucker, Jeanette A.  |  1/4/2011 1:08:27 AM

News Release Distributed 08/03/10

The average American family will spend $606.40 on back-to-school clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics this year. Citing recent research, LSU AgCenter family economist Jeanette Tucker says that’s an increase of $56.72 over 2009.

“The economy will continue to play a role in American families’ back-to-school preparations,” Tucker says.

More Americans will buy store brand or generic products this year compared with last year, the economist says. Additionally, more parents will comparison shop online. The state of the economy also has affected a parent’s decision regarding whether a child should attend public or private school.

Growing children mean growing budgets, Tucker says. The average family of school-aged children is expected to spend 37 percent of their budget – or $225.47 – on clothing. Electronic- or computer-related school needs will take $181.60 – or 30 percent – of the family’s back-to-school dollars. Families also will spend an average of $102.93 on shoes and $96.39 on school supplies.

Tucker has tips for creating – and sticking to – a back-to-school budget to keep expenses under control.

Make a list

It doesn't take much to turn the school's supply list into a shopping list, Tucker says. Add in school clothes, backpacks and back-to-school haircuts, and the cost grows exponentially.

Before buying the first pack of crayons, Tucker recommends estimating the total that you can spend and what the costs are likely to be.

“Don't leave anything out,” she says. “It's better to know ahead of time if things will be tight so that you can plan ways to cut before you get to the store.”

Get the children involved

“Have the kids join in as you prepare for making those back-to-school purchases,” Tucker suggests. Hands-on participation will teach them great lessons about budgeting, finding a good deal and the difference between wants and needs.

Younger children can use safety scissors to help cut coupons. Older children can compare costs and add up projected expenses.

“You might even put them in charge of research – scouting out deals to help stay under budget,” Tucker says.

Try online

Buying online? Play it smart, Tucker says, suggesting grouping orders with friends to get free shipping. Or buy bulk packs of supplies at office or warehouse stores to share.

Challenge teens and tweens to conduct online research to compare prices and find money-saving perks like free shipping and coupons, she advises.

“You might also find a ‘steal’ on internet auctions such as eBay or Craigslist,” Tucker says.

Be willing to compromise

“Youngsters will want to have the same cool stuff their friends have,” she says. “If your budget has the room to consider some of these cool items, you can help your kids learn to prioritize.”

Talk to students about how choosing a more expensive item means they'll have to cut costs on another item, and give them a chance to think their choices through, Tucker says.

“If they have money of their own, you might ask them to help fund that special lunchbox or name-brand backpack,” she says.

Another tip to consider is waiting to purchase backpacks until a week or so after school starts when items are more likely to be discounted. Tucker reminds consumers that many high-quality book bags are guaranteed, so be sure to file away receipts and related paperwork for the future.

Get creative

There's a good chance school clothes and shoes are the biggest items in your back-to-school budget. Tucker says they don’t have to be. Now is a good time for older siblings to clean closets to locate hand-me-downs or trade clothes with other families. Tucker suggests shopping discount stores, thrift stores and garage sales. If school uniforms are required, check whether the school has a trading or discount program.

– Learn from the experience

Make your savvy back-to-school approach an annual tradition. Keep track of this year's expenses to help determine your budget next year, Tucker advises.

“Keep notes about what you discover this year, like which thrift stores are best and when the store shelves start to empty,” she says. “They'll come in handy a year from now.”

Tucker says families should practice these smart shopping skills each year.

“By the time the kids graduate, you'll have saved a bundle, and your children will be much more prepared for the real world.”

Tobie Blanchard

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