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Teach children how to budget as you shop for supplies

This year, turn shopping for clothes, colored pencils and such for class into a chance to offer children and teens some tips about money management, bargain hunting and personal style.

Below are some conversation starters to try as you head to the mall with the budding academics in your life:

1. Sure, surfing the Web for apparel and supplies once the kids are snuggled in bed sounds like a more serene approach to back-to-school shopping, but it’s a missed opportunity to teach young ones about savvy shopping. Have a school supply list? Task children with seeing how many of the items they can find at home and what things they’ll need to buy.

“That’s a nice way to get them to think about reusing,” says Deborah Gilboa, a clinical associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh medical school. She also is the author of a new book, “Get the Behavior You Want … Without Being the Parent You Hate!,” which is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

Have them survey their closets to see what fits, what doesn’t, what still looks good and what can be downgraded to play clothes or donated. Once clothes are categorized into these piles, talk with kids about their choices.

2. Set a budget from the start – and let kids know it exists.

“Your savings needs should determine your spending,” says Gene Natali Jr., co-author of “The Missing Semester,” a financial guide geared toward inspiring young adult readers to take control of their financial futures. “We’re surrounded by constant temptation, but you want to have a budget and you want that amount to be determined by your savings needs.”

But don’t feel pressured to set the same limits for each child, Dr. Gilboa says. Maybe one kid had a growth spurt and needs more clothes than another, for instance, or perhaps an older sibling needs a netbook for typing term papers.

Adults “don’t have to justify that,” she says.

3. What commercials call “school essentials” oftentimes aren’t must-haves. Map out before stepping foot in the store what are needs and what would be nice to have only if money is left over. If below budget, consider keeping the money instead of splurging on something extra, and talk to children and teens about strategies for saving money.

“Age is opportunity,” Natali says, meaning that the sooner people start to save the more opportunities they’ll have to provide for the future.

4. Teach the thrill of finding fashions for reduced prices to any age. Younger kids can help clip coupons and give adults a stack to sort through. On the receipt, show them how much money was saved because of the coupons they found, Dr. Gilboa says. Similarly, ask adolescents to browse the Internet for potential deals.

5. Grabbing what is needed and getting back home quickly often is the goal for most families. But instead of trying to wrap things up at record speeds, treat the outing as a bonding experience. As children – particularly adolescents – pick out and try on clothes, use it as a chance to learn about their interests, trend tastes, and concerns about their body image and fitting into their school’s social circles.

Back-to-school shopping is “not just looking for school clothes but mining for a little bit more information about our kids,” Dr. Gilboa says.


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