08/14/2013 07:24 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2013

Parents: A Back to School Refresher

The Fourth of July came and went, but along with the fireworks, it marked the traditional onslaught of back-to-school advertising. Most of the country was coping with a substantial heatwave, but we were being urged to think fall. Actually, we better think fall in July -- in September, Christmas will be creeping onto the selling floors and into our ears.

While many parents look forward to having their normal routine return, back-to-school time often means it's also back-to-spending time. The good news is that even though the cost of school supplies has increased by 7.3 percent, spending is expected to be down this season. Nevertheless, parents are still projected to spend and average of $635. This figure doesn't include a new tablet computer, if your high school student is expecting one.

This is a great time to reinforce your kid's money lessons. Let's get back-to-basics. Start by helping them make a spending budget for the two major back-to-school categories of supplies and clothing.

The Supplies
  • Ask the school or teacher for a list of recommended supplies your child will need for the new school year.
  • Ask your kids what they think they will need in addition to the school list.
  • Give them a small notebook and show them how to list each item and price.
  • With your child, go through the list to see what can be used from last year. If the backpack is OK there is no need to purchase a new one at this time.
This is a good time for the refresher on need versus want. I recommend that you should pay for all the needs and have them pay for the wants.
  • A Need: Something without which your daily living would be impossible, or very, very difficult.
  • A Want: Something that if you had, you'd be happier momentarily, but if you didn't, you could live without.
The Clothing Budget
  • Back to the notebook for the clothing budget.
  • The list should be specific.
  • Detail how many of each item they think they will need, where they can be purchased and cost.
  • Again, take inventory of clothing that can still be worn for the start of the school year.
  • Some items can found at tag sales and resale shops at tremendous savings.
Now it's time for the total. This number is guaranteed to precipitate sticker shock for parents and kids alike. Review the lists together and bring back reason and reality. You daughter may well think she needs three pairs of popular boots at $200 each -- you get to say, "I'll pay for $40 boots." Your son may have decided that a skateboard is justifiable as a need -- try to find the grace to be amused by his explanation and originality while you are forming the word "No!" For the Parent
  • Have your master budget for how much you can spend on back-to-school in total.
  • Stick to your plan, and don't go over budget.
  • Remember that spending is never a sign of love -- no "keeping up with the neighbors."
  • Don't go into debt.
  • You don't have to buy everything at once.
  • Compare sales and online retailers -- shop sales and specials.
  • Start making your list and checking it over and over again, it's time to put together your holiday budget!
I know this isn't going to be easy, but this is a worthwhile lesson. Your children can now start to understand the dynamics of planning, and most importantly, budgeting. Meanwhile, try to enjoy the remainder of the summer with your kids.

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