Back to school on a budget

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With the start of the new school year quickly approaching, many parents are beginning to feel the pressures only back-to-school shopping expenses can bring.

According to a recent study by the Marketing to Moms Coalition, back-to-school spending per household will average $484 in 2008, up from $449 last year, with specific increases in the clothing, electronics and school supply prices.

With many family budgets already a bit tighter due to rising food and gas prices, approaching back-to-school spending with a solid plan makes more "cents" than ever. Start by taking a thorough inventory of what you already have and then develop a budget for what you still need. Then, list each item in order of importance, starting with the necessities. After ranking your supplies by priority, trim the non-necessities and luxuries from the bottom of the list in order to stay within your budget. Don't forget often-overlooked expenses such as yearbooks, extra-curricular activities and uniforms, science projects and immunizations.

The experts at Consumer Credit Counseling Services encourage consumers to consider the following important tips when back-to-school shopping.

Determine clothing needs vs. wants. Many kids feel pressure to wear certain brands and the latest fashion trends, which are often the most expensive clothing items. Set a clothing budget and inform your child of his/her limits before entering a store-they may realize that it's better to have more options than the latest fads. Keep in mind that what you buy is just as important as how you buy it. Basic, durable clothing will stretch your dollars significantly and never go out of style. Also, avoid being tempted to purchase a year's worth of clothing at one time.

Save on school supplies. Shopping in the " back-to-school" section at an expensive retailer may be convenient, but shopping at outlet and office supply stores could save you money. The Marketing to Moms Coalition also found that 20 percent of surveyed parents claimed that their child's school offered students the option to buy supplies directly from the school.

Involve your children. While back to school shopping can be painful financially, it offers an opportunity for parents to teach kids a valuable lesson about budgeting, credit and the difference between wants and needs. An MMI poll revealed that the majority (57 percent) of parents say their children share the responsibility for selecting back-to-school supplies and clothing. To make the most of the experience, sit down with your children and create a budget. Teach them to comparison-shop and point out that if they get the expensive jeans, they will have to cut back in other areas. Not only will they learn about smart shopping, they will value what you buy for them much more.

Remember, the most important strategy for back-to-school shopping is to set a budget and stick to it. With proper planning, you can prepare your children for another school year without breaking the bank.