08 August 2009

School Days or School Daze? by Barbara Salsbury

Speaking of school or more to the point back to school,for most of us it very quickly becomes a daze once the budget is involved. It seems as if school just got out. It did! However we are already seeing advertisements about Back to School items, specials or up-coming sales. I thought it would be helpful to offer a few hints and ideas to help you stretch the budget and have a game plan before the ads and pressure intensifies for you to buy it all now.

If your family is old enough to be going to school they are old enough to learn the real meaning of the word budget. And this year we may even need to discuss the meaning of “tight budget,” or “creative budget”, hopefully to prevent “lack of budget”.

This means that you need to be having discussions NOW. It is a good idea to have a family meeting to sit down and go over budget amounts; as in how much money we might not have this year. As the guidelines are laid out, don’t forget to include the dollar amount for tax as you figure out how much can be spent for what and how many of each thing you will be able to buy. To bring things into perspective for such a discussion prepare a visual aid that shows one pair of jeans with a price range from $X to $X, and then one shirt or top, and so on. This will quickly show how vanishing cream really is an ingredient in money. Point out the differences in cost/prices between stores that most likely will carry the same brands.

Start now by having the kids go through the ads, several weeks in a row, well before the actual shopping day or weekend. Assign each one with a different colored highlighter. They can mark up the ads as wish-lists – focusing on the item and the cost. Have them shuffle and change items, likes and dislikes on paper. Juggling items and cost, and realizing just how much things really cost can be eye opening. It will also make it quite clear which items are their favorites. Do you want the Back to School wardrobe to include seasonal clothes, such as winter coats and oots? (Can you really get your teenagers to wear a coat and boots?)

Ad comparison is a good learning experience. It will allow time to create a thought-through list before going to the stores. When it’s time to actually go to the malls you won’t waste time and you also won’t waste your budget by being tempted with impulse purchases, which can very quickly eat up an entire budget before you ever get to the necessities, or “I really want” items. It is much better if you carefully plan your itemized budgets, stores and time frame.

Back to School can literally cost thousands of dollars in today’s markets. Your budget bracket for school wardrobes just might not be in the thousands per child category. You must decide and agree upon how you are going to handle “having to have” the latest style or most popular brand names. One idea that might work for your family is that Mom and Dad agree to buy the basics and only one or two “in” or “hot” trendy items. Then they know that they can save their money to spend on the fad items (of course, remembering the tax.) consider house brands for the real basics of underwear and socks. The labels don’t have to show on those – maybe.

You might consider not buying it all now. Break up the wardrobe buying over several months. Budget enough and set a goal for enough items to get started. In several months, as seasons and weight of clothes change, schedule another outlined, budgeted shopping event. I mention this as an option because most of the children in families I know grow so fast they out-grow the clothes that were bought last week. It’s not that the washer and dryer shrink them; the person who is supposed to wear them has had growth spurts. One year our son got two new pair of jeans to start school in Jr. High. In less than two months he was complaining that he needed new jeans. Lo and behold, what I was still thinking should be considered fairly new were now floods that no teenager would be caught dead wearing.

One more idea to think about, along with checking out the ads, is to check out the closets now. Plan a day to see what still fits, is still acceptable and won’t cause hysterics if it must be worn. There are usually a few favorites hiding in there. You can stretch the budget and wardrobe further by buying mix and match items to change the look or outfit of what is already in the closet. AND with that strategy you might be able to squeeze out enough money to be able to buy one or two more new items to go with whatever else just might be hiding in that closet.

Another fun thing to build into the shopping event is to set aside a specific dollar amount for an impulse purchase or two in the process of maintaining the strict budget. Usually this works well if the impulse items are placed in the category of a fun accessory or two that could go with several of the planned purchases.

It doesn’t really have to be an ordeal. You budget the amount that you can and then train your family to enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Also keep in mind that right now, especially for the tweens and teens, consignment stores and second hand stores are rapidly becoming THE place to shop. Just remember good shopping skills apply here as well. All purchases are not bargains just because the environment says they should be bargains.

Now keep all of these ideas and strategies in mind because the Christmas ads are just around the corner.

Best selling author Barbara Salsbury, is one of America’s leading authorities on self-reliance. To learn more visit Barbara's blog.

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