The Savvy Back-to-School Consumer

Back to School shoppingThis weekend is the last hurrah as kids start school after Labor day.  From the standpoint of a savvy consumer, getting ready for the new year depends in large part on the age of the student. For kindergarteners, you are probably all set with a new box of crayons, some safety scissors and a glue stick but things get more complicated as kids get older.

As your child goes through elementary school having the right name-brand set of school supplies may seem to them like a thing of utmost importance. Anyone who remembers Trapper-Keepers and Lisa Frank will know what I’m talking about. The rest of you: Google it. Your kids may not really have a concept of prices yet and this may be an opportunity for a lesson. Even if you as the adult have managed to conquer all sense of materialism and need to “keep up with the Joneses”, your children and their classmates probably haven’t. As silly as it may seem to you, not having the “cool” school supplies may make your child feel left out and embarrassed so this is a chance to let them learn to prioritize and manage money. Depending on age, you can try giving your child a budget for school supplies before you begin shopping together or help them compare prices and if they do choose the less expensive item, reward them by letting them use the money that was saved to get ice-cream on the way home.

This will continue in high-school but it won’t just be pens and notebooks. School clothing is likely to become more important to students and they will have developed a lot more independence. This means that if your child tends to want back-to-school outfits that you consider extravagant, you can leave the consequences to them. Try giving them a monthly clothing budget, with the clear understanding that if they buy a brand new wardrobe for the first week of school, you will not be doling out extra when they want expensive new boots in the winter. No matter how cold it is.

By college, most students are less likely to follow the trends in clothing or school supplies. They’ll have the skills to judge what is worth spending money on and the patience to save. However, for kids going off to college, there’s a whole new area of spending: dorm rooms. It’s easy to get swept up by all the gadgets and space saving devices out there for dorm rooms but don’t buy more than you know your child will need. If this is their first year away from home, send them off with no more than the basics. Let them take some time to learn about college life and figure out a routine and then when they come home for Thanksgiving you can stock up on the things that you know would be helpful.

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