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Don't Let Back-to-School Shopping Put a Huge Dent in Your Wallet

August 17, 2006
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PHOENIX, Ariz.  Many parents have a love/hate relationship with the back-to-school season. They love that their children will be back in class, but they hate the costs associated with it all.

According to the National Retail Federation, families in the United States are expected to shell out $17.6 billion on back-to-school gear this season, up from $13.4 billion last year. And the average family will spend nearly $530 for back-to-school items.

"Back-to-school spending can be a huge burden for many families, especially those living paycheck-to-paycheck," said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a nonprofit credit counseling agency. "If you use a credit card to pay for back-to-school expenses and can't pay the balance off immediately, you can end up paying hundreds of more dollars in the long run."

The NRF says that electronics and clothes fuel the majority of school-related costs. Finding ways to control spending while ensuring your children are prepared for a year of learning is no easy feat.

Sullivan has seven tips to help you stretch your cash this shopping season:

· Create a Back-to-School Budget -- How many times have you gone shopping for just a few small items, and come back with much more? It happens to all of us, and it can be detrimental to our pocketbooks. Create a list of what your child absolutely needs and then stick to it. If your child is shopping with you, explain your strategy ahead of time, and enlist him or her in helping you find the best bargains. This can be a good opportunity to brush up on math and life skills for your child, as well as to explain the value of money.

· Buy in Bulk -- Organize a back-to-school shopping trip with family, friends and classmates. Purchasing the basics in bulk can save a lot of cash now and in the future, when more supplies are needed.

· Go Online -- Before you shop for textbooks in bookstores, check out online sales. Web sites like amazon.com and campusi.com offer deals on new and used textbooks. Just be sure to order the books at least two weeks before the first day of class to allow for shipping time.

· Break Open the Piggy Bank -- Have your kids chip in for their back-to-school shopping. They will be more likely to spend less if they are paying a percentage of the total cost.

· Wait It Out -- Unless your child's school requires uniforms, don't buy your child's entire back-to-school wardrobe before school starts. Buy a few items for those important first days and let them scope out the new trends before purchasing the rest. Most kids wear a few favorite things anyway, so large wardrobes usually lead to unworn or barely worn items. When it comes to supplies, wait and see what teachers require before you blow your budget. This way, you don't end up paying for items that your child won't actually use.

· Recycle Supplies -- If your kid's backpack or binder are still in good shape, don't purchase new ones just because it's a new school year. Offer to trade with a friend or encourage your child to decorate with appropriate, original art. If you must buy new items, purchase a classic-looking backpack that won't go out of style before the next school year.

· Out With the Old, and In With the New -- Many kids outgrow their clothes before they are worn out. Sell clothes that are still in good condition to consignment or used-clothing stores. You can use the money you make to help purchase new clothing items. You can also take brand-conscious kids to outlet malls, and spend a fraction of what you would in department stores or boutiques. You can also save gas and money by buying online, and often can get a discount. There are a number of second-hand and surplus Web sites with good bargains. Just make sure to check out the seller through online feedback.

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