Monday, August 14, 2006

Back-to-School Cool

Getting ready for back-to-school has become big business. According to the U.S National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2006 Back-to-School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, families with school-aged children will spend an average of $527.08 on back-to-school items per child. This is an increase of 18.7 percent over 2005. For Canadian families, that figure is estimated to be even higher.

So where does the money go? More than half, or $228.14 will be spent on clothing, $98.34 on shoes, school supplies will take another $86.22 and the balance of $114.38 will be spent on electronic gadgets. For families with two or more school-aged children, the impact on the family budget can be considerable.

"As students gear up to return to school in August and September, costs for clothing, computers, backpacks, calculators, notebooks, pens and paper and other school supplies quickly add up for any household," said Duke Stregger, Executive Director of the Credit Counselling Service of Toronto.

Stretching the family budget isn't the only reason to curb back-to-school spending. Canadians are part of the rich 20 percent of the world's population that currently consume 86 percent of the world's resources. At this rate, we'll shop ourselves out of a plane! The good news is that with a little planning and some creative shopping, it is possible to meet our children's needs without costing the Earth.

Start by taking an inventory of what your child already has. Set aside some time early in the day, when temperatures and tempers are their coolest, and have a try-on session. Raising three kids has taught me that, "It's too small" often means, "I don't like it anymore." If that's the case, find out why. Sometimes simply changing the buttons or adding some trim or patches can put the article back in favour and save you the cost of replacing it.

When you're sorting clothes, keep three boxes or baskets at the ready. The first is for clothes that either need alterations or laundering, the second is for clothes that are to be discarded or donated, and the third is for the recycling circle pile.

Recycling circles are creative way to save money and resources and are made up of friends and family whose kids don't go to the same school. This avoids the embarrassment of clothes being recognized from one wearer to another and includes such big-ticket items as winter coats and dress clothes, both of which are usually outgrown before they are worn out.

When our boys were little, our recycling circle was made up of five boys from four families. For years we passed on suit jackets and dress pants, saving each family hundreds of dollars in the process.

Once you've sorted your child's clothes, take an inventory of what they have. This makes is easier to look for coordinating pieces. Sit down together and sort through sale flyers. Make a list of what your child needs - not simply wants.

Before you hit the major retail stores, visit your local re-sale shop or consignment store. This is a great way to find really expensive designer items at a fraction of the original cost.

"Why spend $100 when you can spend $25 or less for the same or higher quality goods?" said Adele Meyer, Executive Director of the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops. "Resale offers a practical way to outfit your children while watching those savings add up."

Don't forget to take along the items that you've set aside for donation. This helps teach your child that recycling isn't just about putting stuff in the blue box.

Set spending limits and stick to them. If your child wants a $100 pair of shoes and your limit is $50, suggest that they make up with difference with birthday money or babysitting earnings. This keeps you on budget, and teaches your child how to make financial decisions. It's also a timesaver. If the shoes are beyond your budget, and your child is unwilling or unable to make up the difference, move on.

Remember that you don't have to buy everything before the first day of school. With summer temperatures continuing well into September, you can postpone the purchase of heavier items. This helps minimize the impact on the family budget, and gives you time to find what you're looking for at consignment stores or on sale.


To read more about the back-to-school survey, visit the National Retail Foundation,

Thinking about opening your own re-sale shop? Check out the how-to books and other resources at the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops.


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