MintFamily

MintFamily with Beth Kobliner: Should Your Child Pay for Back-to-School Shopping?

school supplies

As summer comes to a close, it’s time to open your wallet for back-to-school shopping. (Insert groans here.)

During the second biggest shopping event of the year, families will spend about $689, up 14% from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

And even though 85% of parents say they’ll find sales, here’s one surefire way parents can save a little money and teach a valuable lesson: let kids pitch in.

Don’t Break the (Piggy) Bank

If you worry that you’re stealing your kids’ money (or innocence), rest assured: kids of all ages are contributing more for school items.

For example, 6- to 12-year-olds will shell out about $26, up 70% from last year, and 13- to 17-year-olds will spend $36, up 13% from last year.

Even preschoolers and kindergarteners can donate a token amount (say, a quarter).

Sure, this helps parents save a few bucks, but the main goal is to get your child involved so he or she starts to think about making choices, distinguishing wants vs. needs, comparing prices, and sticking to a budget (or at least a shopping list!).

Use Cash If You Can

One mom in Brooklyn, New York, told me that she and her three-year-old shopped for school supplies side by side—from their couch.

Browsing items online, she let her son choose the colors (blue backpack, rainbow paint-splatter lunchbox) and explained that she was paying with a credit card that’s linked to real money.

It’s important to discuss paying with plastic, since many kids assume that swiping a card means you magically get clothing, crayons, and more. Young kids learn best when seeing dollars and coins, so if you can, shop at a physical store and use cash.

Reward Tech-Savvy Kids

However, the majority of folks (54%, up from 40% last year) will shop online at sites like Amazon, Walmart, and Zappos, according to a study from consulting firm Brand Keys. And nearly half of smartphone owners will use their device to comparison shop or get coupons.

Who better to help you shop than your gadget-loving kids? Tell your daughter to use her phone to seek out sales. Offer her a carrot: if she tracks down deals, like a free shipping code, she can keep part of the savings.

Warning: Don’t get so screen-happy that you forget to look around for in-store deals. Bed Bath & Beyond, for example, posts signs in the stores urging shoppers to text for a 20% off coupon, which is helpful for college-bound teens that need dorm essentials.

Establish Who Pays for What

It’s important to talk about what you’ll cover, and what your kid will take on. A good friend of mine pays only for “needs” (basic clothes, backpack, supplies) and maybe one “extra,” like a jersey from her daughter’s favorite soccer team.

This means the kids are in charge of “wants.” But before they spend their $20 or $30, discuss what they’ll buy.

Will your daughter opt for a few small items (say, a funky iPhone cover and a new lip gloss) or save up to buy yet another pair of bright-colored skinny jeans? Make sure she weighs the options, but let her ultimately decide.

For Real Savings, Send Mom (Not Dad)

Sorry, dads, but studies show that you’ll spend about $740 on the back-to-school mission—$100 more than moms, who are more likely to shop at discount stores. Perhaps the cliché that women love to shop is finally paying off!

What back-to-school saving tricks have you discovered?

© 2012 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved

Beth Kobliner is a personal finance commentator and journalist, the author of the New York Times bestseller “Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties,” and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability. Visit her at bethkobliner.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.