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Posted August 3, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Back to school shopping sanity

By Karen Poff - kpoff@vt.edu

Summer has flown by and the school supplies are again appearing in the stores.

Virginia's "sales tax holiday" the first weekend in August can make these expenses a little more affordable for families. But this year, to make the shopping experience even more enticing, retailers have created "Back-to-School Saturday," slated for Aug. 11. The day is being promoted as similar to "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday," with special sales and celebrations to encourage shoppers in their quest for the perfect back-to-school shopping experience.

Should you participate in the frenzy? That's a question each family will have to answer for itself. But the way you approach back-to-school buying is what will ultimately determine your shopping success. Your best option might be to apply the shopping "A, B, C's."

Aspirations: Start by discussing your family's aspirations for back-to-school shopping. Are parents hoping to minimize expenses during this shopping "season?" Do the students want to have the most "fly" wardrobe at school? Where can you find a happy medium? Giving each person a chance to share expectations, concerns, and desires allows family members to better understand each other. Everyone may not get exactly what they want, but talking about it in advance may help set a positive tone.

Budgets: Next, move on to a discussion of what your family can realistically afford. Parents should decide how much the family can set aside for school shopping. Avoid the temptation to use credit cards, unless you are able to pay them off in full each month. Students can make decisions within the amount of money they are allotted. If they have more "wants" than the family budget can afford, they may need to use some of their own money or earn money from odd jobs to make up the difference. Necessities, such as the list of supplies the school requires, should come before "extras." Allowing students to make decisions within the amount they are allocated gives them a chance to learn to manage money wisely. (But only when parents don't "rescue" them from the consequences of poor choices.) Parents should help students put the spending plan in writing to guide the decisions they will make at the store.

Consumer Skills:
Exercising good consumer skills can make a big difference in how far you are able to stretch your back-to-school budget. Do some research on the Internet at home or at the library before you head out to the store. Knowing how much items normally cost will help you recognize a true bargain at the sales counter. Comparison shop for larger items. It may not make sense to go to several stores to check prices on notebook paper. But for more expensive items such as backpacks, graphing calculators, or computers, it might be worth the trip. Some stores may be willing to price-match advertisements you have from a competitor. Be sure to keep your receipts or more expensive items in case you need to return something or until the warranty expires.

In the end, back-to-school shopping can be a fun beginning to an exciting new year for students. With good planning, families can purchase what they need without "breaking the bank." Whether or not you participate in "Back-to-School Saturday," your students will be starting the school year off right!

Don't forget about our Extension "ask an expert" feature that I announced in my last blog. You can submit your financial question to me at the following link:
http://offices.ext.vt.edu/shenandoah/ask-an-expert/shenandoah-fcs.html. The questions will be answered as time allows and answers will be posted on my Facebook page (Karen Poff Extension). Some of the answers may also appear in future blogs.

Karen Poff is a Senior Extension Agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension, serving the Northern Shenandoah Valley and specializing in Family Financial Management. Email her at kpoff@vt.edu

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