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Be Smart When Shopping for Back to School

Shopping spree bags.

While my kids don't like to admit it, they are almost itching to get back to school. You may be downright enthusiastic about the beginning of a new year, but the prospect of back-to-school shopping may not be quite so exciting. It can be a big drain on your pocketbook, especially if you're not careful.

Over the years, I've compiled -- both through personal experience and reader feedback -- some good tips to help you do your shopping in a way that won't break the bank. Here are four of my favorite ideas:

  1. Don't buckle to the pressure. Stick to the basics, and don't let your back-to-school shopping become a foot race with the Joneses. This could be a great teaching moment: a discussion of needs vs. wants. My mom taught me this one as I was the only kid with those funny looking tennis shoes with the wrong number of stripes.
  2. Make a list. You can make any type of shopping more efficient and less costly by starting with a budget and building a shopping list. This will keep you on track and allow you to avoid impulse buys. Do it yourself, or better yet, if your kids are a bit older, bring them in on the exercise. This technique works for shopping anytime.
  3. Can you say sale? Everybody loves a deal and if you can match up a sale with something on your list, you've got a winner. Of course, sales happen throughout the year, so the back-to-school season may be a great time to buy and stash a holiday gift or two. And if, at the same time, you take advantage of those tax-free days offered throughout the country, you'll get the most bang for your buck.
  4. Be a cash buyer. The definitive way to stay on budget during any shopping excursion is to use cash. When the money is gone, the shopping is done. An equally effective alternative, in the interest of budget education, is to consider putting money budgeted for back-to-school purchases directly into your teen's checking account -- and then setting them loose with their debit card. Readers tell me many kids find the will to shop smart when they know they get to keep any leftover cash if they come in under budget. That could mean enough money for an extra outfit or two.

It's back-to-school time and there's no turning back. Get the new school year off to a good start without digging a big financial hole. Good luck!

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USAA, a diversified financial services organization, is the leading provider of competitively priced financial planning, insurance, investments, and banking products to members of the U.S. military and their eligible families. Rated among the highest among financial services companies for customer advocacy in a Forrester Research survey, USAA provides convenient and accessible financial products to its more than 9 million members. For more information about USAA, or to learn more about membership, visit

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