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Special section Save on back-to-school shopping

Get kids involved with back-to-school shopping by giving them a budget.

5 tips for saving on back-to-school gear

5 tips for saving on back-to-school gear

Brace yourselves, parents. The figures are in. Families with school-aged children will spend an average of $594.24 on back-to-school items, up 5.2 percent from last year. And, that's not including the extras -- book sales, bake sales, soccer equipment and piano lessons.

Bad news for budgets
Stores will reap nearly $20.01 billion from parents gearing up their elementary through high school children for another year of learning, according to the National Retail Federation. That's a boon for stores and bad news for your budget.

But Peter J. Sander, father of two boys and author of "The Everything Personal Finance Book," says it doesn't have to be that way.

"It can be an opportunity to teach your kids to manage money and to budget -- and to have fun," says Sander.

So, before you grind your teeth into financially induced oblivion, be assured that there are ways to save when gearing up for another school year.

1. Shop the right way
"Parents come back from back-to-school shopping and find they have a whole lot of things they don't need and clothing the kids won't wear," he says. But, with a little planning, you can avoid such waste and save money.

Sander suggests that parents have a clear idea of what they want to get and what they want to spend. Back-to-school shopping should be just an exaggerated extension of your normal shopping process, he says. Follow a budget, and set spending goals.

Once you decide what your child will need -- need, not want -- put a dollar amount on the whole shopping trip.

Don't budget for every specific item. For example, don't say you will spend $19.95 on pants, and $2.95 on notebooks. Instead budget for the big picture. Pick an upper limit, says Sander. This upper limit will come in handy when bargaining with your child.

2. Bargain with the kids
You can have two goals for back-to-school shopping: Get everything you need while staying in your budget, and teach your child the value of money.

Sander says the best way to accomplish both tasks is to tell your child the items you need to buy and the dollar amount you have budgeted to spend. Explain that any excess can be used as a reward -- either something small, such as ice cream, or something big, such as a future vacation.

-- Updated: July 28, 2008
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