Back to school, affordably

Published 9:14 am Friday, August 5, 2011

With students headed back to school in a few weeks and Virginia set this weekend to offer another tax-free weekend for school supplies, an annual rite of fall will be played out in homes and stores across Western Tidewater — the tug-of-war between children who want the best new back-to-school gear and parents who are looking to save a bit of money.

It’s always a struggle for parents, most of whom want to give their children the best yet find themselves often working overtime just to pay the bills each month. And many times children just can’t understand why they shouldn’t have the newest and fanciest Trapper Keeper or superhero backpack or the trendiest pair of torn jeans.

The commonwealth of Virginia has helped ease some of the pain with its tax holiday, which applies for most school supplies, clothing, shoes and the like. The program surely will not mean the difference for most parents between their children being ready to return to school and showing up in last year’s clothes, carrying empty backpacks. Still, it’s a start. In today’s economy, especially, every nickel counts.

There are, however, some other things that parents can do to get ready for and save money on their children’s back-to-school expenses, and the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants has weighed in with a few ideas.

• Check out the closet. Before you write off all of last year’s clothes, check just to make sure that the things you’re preparing to send to Goodwill actually can’t be used this year. Does your child have an older sibling? Can that sibling’s clothes be handed down this year? It might not make the younger child too happy to wear hand-me-downs, but it can save the parents a bundle of money.

• Set a spending plan and stick to it. And do this before you head to the mall. Make a shopping list and make sure it includes everything your child will need for classes, for sports and for other extracurricular activities. And don’t be bullied into buying things that aren’t on the list, just because “everyone is wearing it.”

• Involve your children. This is a great opportunity to teach kids about money management. Sticking to a budget is a learned skill, and parents should take every chance they get to make sure that their children are equipped for the lives they will lead as adults.

• And finally, look for deals all year long. Your child doesn’t necessarily have to start the year with a closet full of new clothes. If you buy the necessities now, you might be able to find bargains and sales later on that will allow you to fully outfit your student as the year progresses.

It’s an exciting time of year for parents and students, alike. A little planning and a bit of steadfastness can help assure that the kids go to school happy and well fitted, while your bank account stays in the black.