Back-To-School Shopping Lessons


Back-To-School Shopping Lessons

Take this golden opportunity to give kids hands-on experience in managing money.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

Here are a few things on my teenage son Peter's back-to-school list:

  • New khaki pants (current ones frayed at the cuff). Check.

  • New sneakers (current ones two years old and worn). Check.

  • New $100 sunglasses to replace the ones he left on the picnic table by the pool. Nice try, Peter.

The National Retail Federation estimates the average family with school-age children will spend less on back-to-school purchases this year than last: $549 versus $594. However, families with college-age students are expected to spend more this year: an average of $618 versus $599 in 2008.

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Huntington Bank, which compiles an annual "backpack index," estimates it would cost $87 to fill an elementary-school backpack ($24.99) with brand-new glue sticks, markers, pencils, notebooks and other supplies. Add $299 to rent a musical instrument and $25 for school fees, and you're up to $472. The index jumps to $998 for high-school students, including fees for AP tests and college-prep materials.


That kind of outlay represents a golden opportunity to give kids a few lessons in managing money. After all, most teens say they would rather learn about money from their parents than other sources, according to Capital One's annual back-to-school shopping survey. Yet only 24% of the teens surveyed said their parents discuss money management with them regularly. More than 80% of parents said they haven't planned a back-to-school budget with their kids.

To keep things simple, let me recommend three back-to-school activities that will pay dividends for both you and your children.

1. Check prices, either in stores, online or in newspapers. Learning how to compare prices is one of six money skills I think kids need to master before they leave home. Their natural tendency is to shop where their friends shop, so this is your chance to show them that not every pair of jeans has to cost $100-plus.

2. Take an inventory of their drawers and closets. Naturally they "want" a whole new wardrobe, but they may only "need" a couple of tops (or a new pair of khakis to replace the frayed ones).


3. Share the cost. If they'd like to buy more stuff, or more expensive stuff than your budget allows, have them kick in the difference. Preteens will spend about $11 of their own money on back-to-school items, and teenagers about $26, according to the National Retail Federation. That's a start, but teens in particular could contribute more. Nothing focuses a kid's attention on how much things cost like having to ante up his own cash. My son Peter still hasn't purchased those $100 sunglasses.

All that being said, it always feels good to head off to school with something brand new. So go ahead and splurge on whatever fits into your budget, whether it's a calculator, a lunch box or a new backpack.