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Bill Cirone: Shop Smart for Back to School

Start planning now to help save money on clothes and supplies

Though summer is in full swing, this is still the time of year when many families begin to think about preparing for the new school year. Costs for new clothes and school supplies can add up quickly.

Bill Cirone
Bill Cirone

According to a National Retail Federation survey, the average family spends about $527 for back-to-school supplies.

Strategic purchases can save money and provide a chance to model for children how to use wise budget strategies all year. Now is a good time to start planning.

First, it’s a good idea to involve children in making a list of what they already have and what they need. Help them prioritize the list in order of the items most needed. Then draw up a budget.

Next, read through newspaper ads with your children and seek the best sales for clothes and supplies. You can also check online for deals, then show children how to do comparison shopping for the best prices.

Because of the speed of children’s growth, it’s best to resist buying fad clothing, which can be expensive. Show children that they can buy more items if they buy fewer expensive pieces.

It’s very important to make sure the clothes you buy fall within your school’s dress code. Basic, durable and adjustable clothing can stretch your dollars significantly.

Use every opportunity to impart “object lessons.” Your children might want those colorful notebooks with logos or images of their favorite heroes. But the plain notebooks may actually have more paper and be less expensive. While shopping with your children, compare prices, count the number of items and add up the bill. This will acquaint them with using math in their daily lives.

Of course, using slightly worn hand-me-downs can save a lot of money. Garage or yard sales are great sources for a vintage lunchbox or a nearly new calculator.

For some items, such as shoes, it’s important to pay the difference for good quality. Don’t look to the future for growing room. Buy shoes that are comfortable right away. It’s best to choose shoes with a stiff heel, flexible toe and rigid middle for support.

If your children need a computer, consider shopping at an outlet store where you can purchase a refurbished model. Doing so can save you 50 percent to 60 percent from the retail price. If you’re considering other high-tech tools, know your school’s rules first. Some cell phones, iPods and MP3 players are banned from schools.

If your children insist on buying more expensive items, consider having them put part of their allowance or paycheck toward the purchase, or have them eliminate a lower priority item from their list. This will teach them the value of budgeting. It also could cause children to lose interest in the item and forget how important it once seemed.

If you don’t need to buy supplies now, it’s best of all to wait. School supplies are often placed on clearance by mid-September.

Above all, stay within your budget. Using a credit card is good only if you know how you will pay it off. Otherwise, the interest rates and fees may cancel out any savings you made from finding sales and bargains.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

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