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Teaching money lessons with back-to-school shopping

July 30, 2013

| Money Rates Columnist

With the back-to-school shopping season now in full swing, parents shouldn't squander the opportunity to teach their children some new personal finance skills.

Or so suggests a new report from Capital One, which finds that while teens and parents don't always have the same priorities for back-to-school shopping, there may be ways to find common ground. The report notes that establishing a budget, creating a shopping plan and setting financial goals may all help keep school time spending under control -- while also imparting some helpful money lessons to students.

Parents and teens square off on priorities

Consumers have indicated that they plan to spend less this year on back-to-school shopping than they did last year, according to figures released this month by the National Retail Federation (NRF). Average back-to-school spending hit a new high in 2012 at $688.62 per family, but consumers will only spend an average of $634.78 this year, according to the NRF.

Nevertheless, while it probably doesn't come as a surprise to parents, teens still tend to be more focused on style than cost. According to Capital One's figures, that can cause a significant divide between the two groups when it comes to back-to-school shopping.

  • 47 percent of parents say price is the most important factor in making back-to-school purchases, compared to 22 percent of teens who say price is a priority.
  • 36 percent of parents are concerned with purchasing quality back-to-school products, compared to only 10 percent of teens.
  • 40 percent of parents plan to use discount stores for the majority of their shopping, but 47 percent of teens say they will be mostly shopping at department stores.
  • One in five teens say that tech gadgets such as cell phones or laptops are on their "must-have" list, while only 4 percent of parents say the same.

With 21 percent of parents saying they spend more on back-to-school supplies than they do on college savings, the Capital One report suggests families may want to make shopping a family affair.

"Back-to-school shopping season is a great opportunity for parents to help influence money management habits in their children that can last a lifetime," said Shelley Solheim, director of financial education for Capital One Financial Corporation, in a written statement.

Helping teens make smart spending decisions

Capital One found 65 percent of teens do not plan to help pay for their school supplies, and indeed, it may not be feasible for many to do so. Only 27 percent of teens have a summer job, although 63 percent report receiving an allowance.

Still, there are ways for parents to turn back-to-school shopping into a learning experience, even if teens can't contribute financially. The Capital One report notes that parents and teens together can:

  • Sit down to design a realistic budget. If teens want to spend more, they can use their allowance or other income source.
  • Search ad inserts and scout out the best sales.
  • Shop as a team, allowing teens to be more invested in the process.

"Many parents say they're talking with kids about important concepts like wants vs. needs this shopping season -- which is great news -- but parents can further reinforce those practices by building a shopping budget with teens, discussing priorities and trade-offs, and comparison shopping together to get the best deals," said Solheim.

In addition, the report says that teens may benefit from more inclusion in the day-to-day management of family finances. By teaching them to balance the checkbook, write a budget and pay the bills, parents can help their young adults start learning even before the first school bell rings.

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