As the first day of school quickly approaches, so does the back-to-school shopping frenzy.

Karen Poff, Virginia Cooperative Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Shenandoah County, has provided some helpful tips parents can use to keep their families happy and their budgets in check.

According to Poff, it is important to discuss each family member's goals for back-to-school shopping. Are you trying to minimize expenses? Do your kids want the most “fly” wardrobe? “Giving each person a chance to share their expectations, concerns, and desires allows family members to better understand each other,” said Poff. “Everyone may not get exactly what they want, but talking about it in advance may help set a positive tone.”

Poff also suggests discussing what your family can realistically afford. Parents should decide how much the family can set aside for school shopping. Avoid the temptation to use credit cards unless you are able to pay them off in full each month.

“Let students make decisions within the amount of money they are allotted. If they have more ‘wants’ than the family budget can afford, they may need to use some of their own money or earn money from odd jobs to make up the difference,” explained Poff. “Necessities, such as the list of supplies the school requires, should come before ‘extras.’ Allowing students to make these decisions gives them a chance to learn to manage money wisely.”

However, Poff points out that this only works when parents don’t rescue their children from the consequences of poor choices. She suggests that parents help students put the spending plan in writing to guide decisions they will make at the store.

Exercising good consumer skills can make a big difference in how far you are able to stretch your back-to-school budget. Poff encourages parents and students to do some Internet research at home or a library before heading to the store.

“Knowing how much items normally cost will help you recognize a true bargain. Comparison shop for larger items. It may not make sense to go to several stores to check prices on notebook paper, but for more expensive items such as backpacks, graphing calculators, or computers, it might be worth the trip,” said Poff. “Some stores may be willing to match the price offered in a competitor's advertisement. Be sure to keep your receipts in case you need to return something or until the warranty expires for more expensive items.”

In the end, back-to-school shopping can be a fun beginning to an exciting new school year for students. With good planning, families can purchase what they need without breaking the bank.



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