Don’t let back-to-school shopping put your finances in the red

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Sabrina Almeida

With the new school year just 10 days away, malls and other shopping centres are overflowing with parents and kids rushing to make all their purchases. Retailers are no doubt happy with the continuous ka-ching of the cash registers after a lazy summer and tired shoppers can be seeing piling large bags into their vehicles.

While the holidays are considered the traditional season of spending, polls commissioned by RetailMeNot.ca in 2017 and 2018 revealed that Canadians spent hundreds more on back-to-school shopping. Even beating our neighbours south of the border.

It may shock you to learn that last year parents planned to shell out close to $900 which was double the amount of previous years. With shoppers not holding back this year either, a report from Earnest & Young predicts spending in Canada will increase by 4% in 2018.

I am relieved that my sons are no longer in grade school which typically inspires this shopping extravaganza. Yet purchasing one laptop last year saw us quite easily crossing all logical limits. It is no surprise that electronics such as smartphones, tablets, computers, headphones, smartwatches, etc. are responsible for destroying any common-sense budget you may set. Neither is the fact that the ‘undecideds’ and ‘last-minute shoppers’ are easy prey.

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Market research indicates that most parents are acutely aware of the huge expenses associated with fulfilling growing wish lists. Yet more than half of them believe it is important to keep their kids happy and spend lots more than they planned. Approximately 50% do not look for money-saving deals either.

While the cost of clothing and school supplies has increased significantly over the years, loving your kids shouldn’t involve busting your bank account to prove it. Studies show that many families take months to recover from this huge expenditure.

Having succumbed to the temptation during elementary years (I am extremely thankful for the uniforms in high school), I believe that for any financial sanity to prevail one must separate ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. Especially when electronics are on the list. Even the so-called latest offerings are soon vanquished to lower spots by constantly evolving technology. Digital gadgets aside, do children require a new backpack and wardrobe every year?

In my opinion shopping is an expensive way for parents to cajole kids into the school mode and curb any anxiety they may have. We hope that the new clothes and supplies will make them excited about spending their whole day studying!!! As far as the kids are concerned, it gives them bragging rights albeit for a little while. As the newness fades away and work piles on, monotony sets in. Also, some kids always have more and better stuff than you do.

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Even though my sons are in university now, I am not completely free of the back-to-school shopping mania and feel that I must get them something at this time. With school supplies and electronics (Boxing Day is reserved for that) off the list, clothing is my only option. And they indulge me just to get done with it. As consumer trends indicate technology fascinates them more than clothes. And shoes… the kinds that cost hundreds of dollars and I wouldn’t care to buy.

Having said that, I still picked up a few basic school supplies like paper, pens, pencils, etc. during one of my trips to Costco. Buying in bulk brings significant savings. Prices also tend to be higher during the rest of the year. I don’t require notebooks, pencil cases, erasers and glue sticks anymore but highly recommend taking advantage of the special pricing at this time. I’ve learned the hard way in the past.

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Making a list of what is required and a budget and sticking to it is the best way to curb expenditure. Discuss it with your children and set limits for what they can get.

When it comes to clothing, it is preferable to invest in items of longer wear. In high school, for example, my boys wore t-shirts all year around. It was too hot to wear long sleeved shirts with the sweater. And the trend has continued.

If you prefer brand names, monitor pricing throughout the year and buy when there are deals. End of the season or school year purchases can be significantly cheaper. Signing up for email and social media notifications will keep you informed of upcoming discounts. You can also take advantage of special rates for loyal customers.

Financial advisors recommend using cash to rein in spending and avoid huge credit card bills that can take months to clear.

Make financial prudence the first lesson of the school year!

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