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The Best Ways for Parents to Avoid Back-to-School Debt

Back-to-school shopping for your K-12 kids can take a big bite out of your budget.

Last year, Canadian parents expected to double the amount they spent on back-to-school shopping the previous year, averaging more than $800 per household. If those expenses are left till the last minute, that could spell a lot of debt for parents.

So how do parents avoid that dreaded back-to-school debt and reduce the financial stress?

July is for planning

A lot of families really look forward to a mental breather when July comes. The school year hustle and bustle has come to an end, and the lazy hazy days of summer are just beginning.

But July is a perfect time to start your back-to-school planning, and it doesn’t even require you to leave home and go to the mall or the stationary store.

Start by taking a full inventory of what you’ve already got around the house. Most schools release their class supply lists on paper or on their websites in June. Compare your list to what you already have in your house. Checking the home office and your kids’ bedrooms or craft/play rooms can uncover a treasure trove of supplies.

Chances are, you’ll find more highlighters than any one student could use in a single school year. Other staples like scissors, rulers, and calculators could be hiding in desk drawers. Any supplies you already have on hand could help you reduce your costs and your debt.

Take the opportunity to start searching out good deals online. July is a good time to surf the web for bargains on classroom supplies and even clothing or shoes. Kids are often excited about back-to-school shopping (even in July), so put them to work. They can bookmark some pages with items they need or want.

It’s also a good time to talk about cost sharing with older kids.

If there are items they want, like designer clothes, shoes or backpacks, or even electronics they want upgraded, put aside some time for a quick money lesson. Discuss the difference between needs and wants with your kids and answer some common questions about money and consumer debt that kids might have.

Give them some time to consider the costs and weigh the pros and cons. Tell them they can contribute to the purchases with chore money, savings/birthday cash, or through extra earned money from a summer job. Letting them know your expectations early in the summer gives them time to work towards their savings goals so they can help with purchases.

It also gives them time to reconsider the necessity of some “must haves” — by August some of the urgency may wear off, and they might see the benefit of helping stretch your (or their) dollars further.

Think outside the (department store) box when it comes to clothes

It’s nice to have a new outfit or two for the fall. But an entire new closet full of clothes is costly, and probably isn’t necessary for a lot of kids.

If you start early, you can spread out the costs of buying clothing and shoes throughout the summer. Some schools have dress codes, special items that parents have to purchase, or some clothing items that are off limits. Look for deals online or early in the summer instead doing all of your spending in August. That strategy alone can help relieve some of the financial strain.

But shopping early and finding sales aren’t the only ways to get your kids new clothes.

Think about doing a clothing swap with family and friends. Kids who are younger can benefit from the hand-me-downs of older kids, and you can pass yours on to others, too.

Kids who are a little older and interested in fashion might be interested in shopping the closets of their friends, or their older siblings, cousins, or aunts/uncles. Sometimes, new to them is as good as new. Many teenagers enjoy thrift shopping and finding vintage fashions, which is another great way to save money and avoid consumer debt.

Check out Kerry Taylor’s ideas for back-to-school saving from her site Squawkfox – suitable for all ages, from K to university.

Read all about Frugal Mama’s experience with an upscale clothing swap, and learn how to organize your own.

July is a good time to start putting your back-to-school shopping plan on paper, and into motion. You can avoid debt by planning ahead and using the resources (and supplies!) at your fingertips.

Do you find ways to reuse back to school items? Tell us on Twitter. #BacktoSchool #DebtSolutions #KidsAndMoney

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