Give an education in smart shopping

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2012 - 8:53 AM

Want to raise a responsible consumer instead of a spendaholic? Start with the back to school shopping experience.

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The start of the school season is an overlooked opportunity to teach kids about money and spending choices.

Photo: Bob Andres, MCT

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Danielle Dahlheimer comes from a family that loves to shop but with one caveat -- they don't like to pay full price. The 14-year-old from Center City, Minn., is a bargain shopper in training, picking up money-saving tips from her mom, Judy, as they shopped for back-to-school clothes.

She's learned not to try on things that are too expensive. "It makes it easier to walk away," she said. She also comparison shops and works the store coupons at Hollister and Gilly Hicks. For $200 she recently picked up two pairs of jeans, six tops and sweaters. "She comes from a family that loves a bargain," said Judy Dahlheimer.

The start of the school season is an overlooked opportunity to teach kids about money and spending choices, especially kids ages 12 to 16 who are just starting to push for independence. Nathan Dungan, author of "Money Sanity Solutions: Linking Money + Meaning," said parents first need a plan. Without one, they could end up overspending.

Parents are expected to spend about $688 per child on back-to-school items this year, including about $375 on clothing and shoes, according to the National Retail Federation. Only the holiday season is a bigger consumer spending event, said the NRF.

Generally, Dungan said, parents need a spending plan that lists clothing items (shirts, pants, shoes), supplies and technology. (Go to www.startribune.com/a1697 for a spending plan template.) Make a list of the items already purchased for school this year and check for omissions. Parents can look at recent purchases as a springboard for discussions on needs vs. wants, peer pressure, staying within a budget, and personal accountability. The lessons discussed now, said Dungan, can be revisited at Christmas.

"Parents should be taking the long view," said Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. "What financial skills do I want to teach my child? Being a smart consumer is such a key life lesson." Part of that means teaching kids not only about the power of peer pressure and advertising but also teaching them how to stretch a dollar, Dungan said. Parents should do more than explain how they comparison shop -- they should give kids a chance to do it themselves, comparing, say, a pair of jeans at stores and online.

Sherri Shuherk of St. Michael said that by having her kids pay cash for their clothes instead of charging them, they spend differently. "They suddenly become deal shoppers when it's their money being taken out of their hands," she said while shopping with her 12-year-old daughter Ella at Nordstrom Rack at Mall of America. Shuherk taught her daughter to start her shopping at the back of the store where the clearance racks are instead of the full-priced merchandise in the front. If she finds an item that she's unsure about or is a little too expensive, she takes a picture of it with her phone. "Maybe it will be on sale next week," Ella said.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or jewoldt@startribune.com.

  • SIX SMART SHOPPING LESSONS FOR TEENS

    Kids and money experts Nathan Dungan and Janet Bodnar and personal shoppers Sara Rogers from Mall of America and Amy Lindquist of Lindquistfashion.com share their spending tips for teens.

    1 Wait to buy some items until later, when prices are lower. After Labor Day, the back-to-school season is waning and many retailers will discount even further, just as holiday discounts increase after Jan. 1. Lessons: Delayed gratification equals post-season discounts.

    2 Start a back-to-school file folder: Include the spending plan and make a few notes about what worked and what didn't. Get kids' perspective, too. Lesson: Organization saves money.

    3 Explain the difference between a good sale and a mediocre one. Seasoned shoppers don't rush out for 10 to 15 percent savings, unless it can be stacked on top of sale prices. Lesson: Not every sale is worth spending your money.

    4 Distinguish between a "want" and a "need." Students may think a tablet computer is a need while parents consider it a want. Lesson: Money is a limited resource which makes prioritizing a must.

    5 Have the child earn the money to pay for an item that exceeds the parents' budget. Lesson: Just as Dad may take on a second job or work overtime for a vacation or a new car, kids can do extra chores for a new tablet, for example.

    6 Sign up for coupons and sale alerts via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter at your kids' favorite stores and show them the range of offers. Lesson: Many tweets or Facebook alerts are promotions, not sales. Parents can explain the difference.

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