With the soaring temperatures making you want to do nothing but lounge poolside and sip lemonade, it might be the last thing on your mind; but step inside your nearest discount superstore and you're sure to be quickly reminded: the time for back-to-school shopping is here. Here are a few budgeting tips to help make sure you don't spend the equivalent of a small nation's gross domestic product on new clothes and school supplies for your kids.
Set a Budget
It's easy to just grab your school's supply list when you get to the store and turn your kids loose in the school supply aisles, but that's a surefire way to end up spending more than you bargained for. Instead, take the time to do some budgeting before you shop. Set a limit on how much you plan to spend, and budget clothing and school items accordingly. Include your kids in the planning session to be sure they get what they actually need (and a few things they really want, if the budget permits it). But when it comes time to do the shopping, it's a good idea to leave the kids home so their pleas don't sway you into spending more than planned.
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Use credit wisely
If you can, it's generally best to pay for supplies with cash. If you must use credit, or if you have a rewards card that's too good not to use, it's still a good idea to treat each purchase as though you're paying cash, which will help you be more conscious of your spending. When shopping with credit cards, it's always a good idea to use the card with the lowest interest rate, and be sure the card you choose isn't close to its credit limit.
If you do plan to shop with credit, shop around first for a good rewards deal. Some cards offer back-to-school rewards programs that provide savings on school supplies and clothes for kids. But resist the temptation to sign up for a store card to save money at the register. Store credit cards usually carry higher interest rates that might cancel out anything you saved by signing up.
Most office supply and kids' clothing retailers offer sale prices on these items this time of year, so if it's within your budget, this is a good time to stock up. Apart from being sure to hit the sales, it's important to plan when to shop. Pick a time of day when you feel your best and you're at your most alert, and be sure to eat a meal before you go or pack a snack to take with you. Shopping when you're tired or hungry will make you impatient and distracted, which can lead to bad choices and poor impulse control. By budgeting and planning out your strategy before you shop, you'll be a lot more likely to satisfy both yourself and your kids with the choices you make.
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Jean Marie Bauhaus is an author who writes on a variety of topics, including budgeting and personal finance.