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Back-to-School Budgeting

The annual back-to-school ritual is a retail bonanza. Americans will spend roughly $80-billion on binders, books, flash drives and felt pens. The latest fashions will fly off shelves. Back-to-School shopping doesn’t have to be a spending spree. It can be a thrifty, teachable moment. It’s a great time to give teenagers hands-on experience with budgets.

Back-to-School shopping shouldn’t start with a trip to the mall. It starts with a realistic review of what’s needed. See if some of last year’s supplies are still viable. As long as it’s in decent shape, there’s no functional difference between last year’s binder and this year’s model. Set a spending cap and stick to it. Prices are easy to find online and that allows for some comparison shopping. In fact, it’s likely you’ll find added savings by actually buying online.

The difference between want and need is a concept most teens struggle with. For them, (and many adults) want is need. Ask if it’s really that important to get the pre-ripped designer jeans instead of the less expensive jeans that will rip on their own. Show them how compromise can make a difference; if we buy two pairs of the less expensive jeans, we can afford the more expensive sweater. Or, let’s find some savings on supplies and clothes so we can spend more on a new smartphone.

Experts in education usually suggest that if a son or daughter has their own money (especially teens with part time jobs) they can contribute. They don’t have to commit their life savings, but a reasonable contribution of their own cash makes the experience hit a lot closer to home.


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