Smart Back-to-School Shopping Can Teach Your Kids About Money

Smart Back-to-School Shopping Can Teach Your Kids About Money

The sales have already started, and the ads are in the paper. Back-to-school season is here.

Now is the time to start planning for the inevitable shopping trips you and your children will have to take before the first day of class. Whether you’re preparing them for kindergarten or college, you can make the most of this chore by giving your kids something besides backpacks and new sneakers.

With a little careful consideration, you can turn back-to-school time into a valuable lesson in financial literacy your children will never forget.

Budget & Plan

Before you hit the stores, know what you’re working with. Decide how much you want to spend on back-to-school shopping and then divide it so you have a set budget for each child. Be open about how much you can spend on them so they can get into the mindset of considering each purchase carefully.

Work with each child to set priorities for what they need. Does she need new shoes and clothes? A laptop or tablet? A new backpack? Make a list with them and rank it in order of importance.

Put Your Child in Charge

It may be wise to put your kid “in charge” of back-to-school shopping. That doesn’t mean they can go wild with the credit card at Target, but it does mean they should have heavy input into what they need and what styles to buy.

Let them help decide how much to budget for each item so they are more aware of how much things really cost and are invested in every dollar spent. Then let them choose their own styles of clothing and accessories so they can walk into class or the dorm that first day feeling confident and comfortable – not in clothes that mom picked out.

Look for Back to School Bargains, but Don’t be Cheap

Sale ads and back-to-school coupons are already hitting mailboxes. Take care in the planning process to find the stores with the best deals. Don’t be afraid to make a few trips to a few different places to chase down bargains. You don’t have to buy everything at the same place or even the same time.

Take advantage of sales tax holidays and tax-free weekends in your state.

But also remember that kids are kids, and they can be tough on clothes, computers…just about everything! Less expensive merchandise is often less expensive for a reason: It’s cheaply made and may fall apart more quickly. If you have a rough and tumble kid who is likely to run the soles off a new pair of shoes, invest a few extra dollars in higher quality. It will be worth it later in the year.

Let Your Child Learn Financial Independence

There’s no better way to learn how to handle money than to be in charge of your own budget, and that can extend beyond back-to-school shopping. If you have a kid in college, let him pay his own bills, even if you’re giving him the money to do it. Look for a credit card with a good rate that he can use in limited amounts to make purchases and begin building credit. Tell him that a line of credit is not free money, and let him see what happens when he does or doesn’t pay it off. And teach him how to watch his credit score so he can see it in plain numbers before his eyes.

In short, give your kids a longer leash with their finances, and even let them make mistakes so they can learn from them. The closer they are to the money they spend, the more they can see what it means to be financially responsible. This might be hard to stomach, but it will pay dividends for your child and your pocketbook.

Scottie Neil works at Pinnacle's new Shallowford Road office in Chattanooga. She can be reached at 423-386-2380 or by email at

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