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.