- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

The back-to-school shopping season can be a trying — and expensive — time of year. Parents and their children, often armed with school-provided lists of required supplies, must maneuver crowded stores in search of just the right notebooks, trendy backpacks, hip jeans and new shoes.

The price tag for families with children in elementary or secondary school is expected to hit about $444 this year, or $13.4 billion nationwide, according to the National Retail Federation in Washington. College students, meanwhile, are expected to spend more than $34 billion as they prepare to head to their dorms, the trade association says.

The total $47.4 billion makes back-to-school shopping second in cost only to the Christmas holiday season.

Experts say that planning carefully for those shopping trips can help hold the line on costs and give parents an opportunity to teach children about money management.

It appears, however, that many parents just grit their teeth and open their wallets to deal with the back-to-school shopping spree.

A survey of parents of high school students by the Visa USA Inc. credit card company in Foster City, Calif., found that three-quarters didn’t give their children budgets, which may explain why more than half of the parents thought their children think that money grows on trees.

“Parents may have the best intentions of teaching their kids about money, but the problem appears to be putting theory into practice,” said Rosetta Jones, a Visa vice president.

Visa has a child-friendly back-to-school calculator with budgeting tips on its www.practicalmoneyskills.com educational site.

Suzanne Boas, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta, said that back-to-school spending “can be a real budget buster” for a lot of families, in part because they tend to underestimate costs.

“People forget about things like club fees, dues, band uniforms, instrument rentals,” she said. “That’s all on top of clothes and school supplies.”

It’s especially difficult for some families this year, she added, because rising gas prices are taking more of their paychecks.

Miss Boas suggests that parents work out a spending plan — with their children.

“Use this as an opportunity to teach your kids how to be smart shoppers,” she said. “You can say to them, ‘Let’s sit down and prioritize.’ You’ll probably find that if they really want designer jeans, they may be willing to forgo a new backpack to get them.”

Miss Boas said that this teaches an important lesson, which is learning to accept trade-offs.

“One of the worst things you can do to your children is not teach them to make choices,” she said. “And the back-to-school season presents a lot of opportunities for making choices, such as new books versus used books, or a rolling backpack versus a standard one.”


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