3 money traps of back-to-school shopping

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The months of August and September mark the start of the academic year, which means parents are running out of time to stock up on school supplies, clothes and other essential items for their children.

While these next two months can be a budget-busting time for some families, you don't have to break the bank to get your kids ready for school. Here are three potential money traps of back-to-school shopping and how to avoid them:

1. Going straight to the store, without checking at home first.

Parents will spend an average of $370 on back-to-school shopping in 2014, according to a survey of 1,063 parents by Deloitte. The most in-demand items this year include supplies such as notebooks and pens, clothes, shoes, backpacks and lunchboxes.

A common mistake is going to the store to buy these things without shopping at home first. Parents can save quite a bit of money just by combing through last year's unused supplies, so before heading to the store, go through your closets and cabinets to see if items such as rulers, pens, notebooks, binders and backpacks can be reused. It's possible you'll find several items you can then cross off your shopping list.

Clothes are another easy area to target, especially for kids who haven't grown much since last school year, says Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "It's still warm in many parts of the country, so the clothes they wore in June should still work -- at least for a while -- in September," Cunningham says.

If children need new clothes and money is an issue, she suggests that parents ask friends or neighbors whether they have items they no longer need. You can also check out resale shops for potential bargains.

Keep in mind that retailers tend to deeply discount back-to-school items still on the shelves in September and October -- so parents could buy just enough supplies for the first few weeks of school, then purchase the items at a discount in the future.

2. Failing to create a spending plan.

The average school shopping list will have 18 items on it, according to TeacherLists.com. So it's wise to create a shopping list, set a dollar amount that you plan to spend on each item and make a back-to-school budget worksheet, says Tom McDermott, founder and president of Asset Protectors & Advisors in Raleigh, North Carolina.

"Take your worksheet with you to the store to make sure you stick to your budget," McDermott says.

Before you even leave the house, parents should sit down with children and discuss what they need versus what they want, creating a specific list of essential items to buy, says CouponMom.com founder Stephanie Nelson. "This will save parents money, time and stress."

Shopping without a budget or a list can send consumers into a shopping frenzy that leads to overspending. Parents in one of the 16 states that offer a sales tax-free holiday weekend should also be careful not to purchase items at full price, says CPA Howard Dvorkin, an accountant and author of "Credit Hell: How to Dig Out of Debt."

"Just because people are getting items tax-free doesn't mean they need to forget about a shopping list, a budget, coupons or coupon codes and hunting around for the best prices," Dvorkin says.

3. Buying in bulk, just to save more.

While buying in bulk can be a great way to save money, overbuying just for the sake of saving can leave you with a bunch of stuff your children won't actually use and may push you over your spending limit.

"Just because there's a super sale on something doesn't make it a bargain if your child isn't even going to need those things," says Judy Woodward Bates, founder of Bargainomics.com.

Also never assume that buying in bulk will save you money -- always compare the price per unit of what you're buying to its price at other stores. To avoid the trap of overspending, make sure you don't buy something just for the sake of a deal.

Here's a fresh idea: Team up with other parents to buy basic items such as paper, pens and notebooks in bulk to get the best price, and then split the items. Focus on buying essential school items your children will actually use and items you all have on your shopping list.

By avoiding these common back-to-school money traps, you can put yourself and your family in a stronger financial position as your children start the school year.

Matthew Ong is the senior retail analyst at NerdWallet, the smart website for your money. NerdWallet compares everything from shopping deals to credit cards to save consumers cash.



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