How you spend your money this back-to-school shopping season could affect your budget well into Christmas.

Retailers are trying to cash in on parents, many of whom are expected to spend close to $500 in supplies and clothes for children heading back to school, Deloitte found

But Amy Peek, accountant and owner of Pittsburgh-based Peekz ConsultiN, cautions parents to spread out their spending a bit and make a plan before hitting the stores.

Parents often will spend big amounts of cash in August, then in September, they get bombarded with all of the fundraising, boosters, class photos and other expenses tied to sports and extracurricular activities.

Fall happens so fast — it is very easy for parents to get into debt.

“All of these things that you don’t think of in August when you start school shopping, really start hitting your finances in September and the rest of fall,” Peek says.

Here are some tips from Peek to help navigate school shopping season:

Make a budget

Set a budget so you don’t overspend.

“Get the list of what they need for school and look at your checkbook and see how much you actually need to spend before you pull out plastic,” Peek says. “Never spend more than you make.”

You may have more money than you think you do for supplies. If you’ve been budgeting money all summer for child care or summer camps, those expenses will be going down, so funnel that cash into your back-to-school budget. Or, if you budget a monthly allowance for general clothes, make that part of the pot, as well.

Don’t stop with this one-time budget. Peek says that August is a great time for parents to take a look ahead to the next school year and reconfigure the overall household budget. Take into account school lunch costs, travel for activities or sports, holiday gifts and other expenses you may not have had the prior school year.

Buy clothes last

Peek says she often sees parents blow most of their budget on clothes — leaving little for actual school supplies.

“Buy the stuff the kids need first,” Peek says, pointing to notebooks, pens, calculators, tablets and other supplies. “This also stresses the importance of education to your kids.”

Beware of Labor Day sales

When you are shopping for clothes, don’t wait for Labor Day thinking you’ll get the best deal. Yes, there can be good sales on Labor Day, but retailers know customers wait for the weekend and often will price things lower the weekends leading up to and after Labor Day.

As retailers attempt to make room for fall clothing, check the stores in the late summer for unadvertised sales and bountiful clearance racks.

Try buying a couple of warm-weather outfits for the start of school, but wait to make the bulk of your fall purchases after the start of school, when prices will be lower.

Involve your children

Help teach your children a lesson in finance before they head back to school and give them a bigger role in the shopping.

Show them your budget. Let the kids pick out what they want as long as they stay within their budget.

“This teaches kids about money and teaches them to be aware of how much things cost,” Peek says. “You’ll be surprised how much kids will pick if they know they can get more if they skip the name brand.”

This would be a good opportunity to take younger children to thrift or consignment stores. Get your older children involved in online price matching to snag a good deal on pricier supplies. Or have your kids try on clothes or a pair of shoes in store, then have them research the best deal online.

Take advantage of vacations

August is one of the busiest times of the year for vacations, which may help you save on school supplies if you do your research.

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Check your vacation destination for outlet stores, sales tax holidays.

Are the sales taxes lower at your vacation destination, compared with home? Perhaps there will be a sales tax holiday during your trips? (Here’s a list of tax-free weekends in the United States.

Are there outlet stores near where you’ll be staying?

Doing a little homework may help you get more bang for your back-to-school buck.


PHOTO CREDIT: Alyson Raletz

Peekz ConsultiN LLC is a Pittsburgh-based accounting firm, located in the West Side, that caters to individuals, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. We aim to empower clients to help them take control of their finances and achieve their dreams.


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