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Back-to-school shopping trips can put a strain on the family budget, but a few simple steps can help you spend smart and save big.

There are the telltale signs. The days are getting shorter, the flowers are beginning to fade, and the signs screaming “back-to-school sale” have been in stores for a month. And while you try to eke out the last few opportunities for some summer fun, you know that you will soon be forking over lots of dough to get little Bobby and Suzy ready for the new school year.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Back-to-School survey conducted by BIGresearch, families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $603.63 on apparel, school supplies and electronics, with total spending on grades K-12 expected to reach $22.8 billion. Of that $604, the average family will spend about $221 on clothing, $89 on school supplies and $104 on shoes, according to the survey.

While back-to-school shopping can take a toll on your family’s budget, there are ways parents can save money and help ease the financial strain of getting ready for back to school. This can also be a great opportunity to have fun with your kids, as well as introduce them to creative budgeting.

With a few simple steps, you can drastically cut the amount of money it costs to buy school supplies this year. Follow these important tips for a successful back‐to‐school shopping trip.

Take inventory. Before you do anything, choose a day to sit down and go through your kid’s clothes and leftover school supplies, such as pads of paper, pens, markers, binders, etc. You will be amazed at what you will find in your child’s playroom or in the office closet. Back-to-school shopping can be very expensive, and this will let you know exactly what you need to buy. Plus, it will cut your costs and save you money in the long run.

Create a checklist. The all‐important checklist is your ticket to saving money on back‐to‐school supplies. When you create a list, you are less likely to buy other items. Determine your child’s immediate needs and spend time on those items first. Make sure you start your list early, to be sure all of your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed before your child heads back to school.

Set a budget. A budget will not only save you time and money, it will help you and your family avoid impulse purchases, which can drive up the costs of back-to-school shopping. Keep a close eye on your budget and involve your children when creating it, and they will know exactly how much you are planning to spend before you even walk out the door. This also teaches them the importance of managing money.

Buy in bulk. If you have a large family, buying in bulk may be the best way to stretch your back-to‐school budget. Buying in bulk is usually a good idea for generic items you know you will need for some time to come, such as pens, pencils and paper. If you don’t have a large family, go in with a neighbor or friend to split the costs on bulk purchases.

Utilize the web. The Internet is a great way to compare prices at various stores. Plus, you’ll be more likely to stick to your shopping list. Sometimes it’s too easy to indulge in impulse buying in the stores. Make sure your buying decision is based on price, rating and shipping costs, and be sure to look for free shipping. Comparison shopping is always a great way to save big.

Don’t forget to plan ahead. It’s never too early to plan for your children’s college. While you’re saving on back-to-school supplies, you might as well start saving for their college education. Section 529 plans, called Bright Start in Illinois, are designed to assist families in setting aside funds for future college costs. People who file individual state income tax returns may deduct up to $10,000 per tax year ($20,000 for married couples filing jointly) for their total combined contributions to 529 plans during the tax year, and the earnings on qualified withdrawals are exempt from Illinois and federal income tax. You can open an account with as little as $25 and set up automatic investments with as little as $15 a month. For more information, contact a financial advisor or visit brightstartsavings.com.

Back-to-school shopping trips can put a strain on the family budget, and with today’s economic conditions, smart spending is essential. Take these simple steps into account, and you will see your savings add up quickly. And make the most out of your annual back‐to‐school shopping trip by teaching your kids how to be financially savvy and creative budgeters. Your wallet will be happier, and the kids will be educated and ready to head back to school. iBi

Daryl Dagit is a financial advisor with Savant Capital Management. For more information, visit savantcapital.com.

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