CPAs offer back-to-school shopping tips for consumers

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It's time to plan your back-to-school shopping budget, since most students head back to the classroom in late August or early September. With children wanting the latest trendy clothing items, and families trying to continuously clothe their growth spurts, the price tag can really add up. The Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA) recommends five ways to prepare for and save money on back-to-school expenses.

1. Take advantage of your state's tax-free weekend

The Commonwealth of Virginia will hold a sales tax holiday August 1–3, 2008, to assist Virginia parents with back-to-school shopping expenses. Many other states offer similar sales tax holidays at back-to-school time. During this period, purchases of certain school supplies, clothing, and footwear are exempt from the state sales tax. In Virginia, to qualify for the savings, each eligible school supply item must be priced at $20 or less, and each eligible article of clothing and footwear must be priced at $100 or less. Virginia CPAs caution, however, that a good deal shouldn't be an excuse to overspend.

2. Do a closet inventory

Everyone knows kids grow out of clothes quickly. However, before counting out last season's garments, check the closet to see if those khaki pants or that t-shirt still fit and are in good shape. Maybe an older sibling's gently-worn clothes could be used to supplement a younger child's back-to-school wardrobe.

3. Set a spending plan

Before you head to the nearest mall, make sure you have your shopping list in hand. Without a pre-determined list of needed items, you could be asking for trouble. Items to possibly include on your list besides clothing and shoes are sporting or hobby equipment like cleats or ballet slippers; class supplies like notebooks, binders, and crayons; and electronic devices and computer equipment.

As part of your spending plan, figure out how many pairs of pants, shirts, and socks your child needs. Remember, buying mix-and-match clothing may be less expensive in the long run than buying pants that can only be worn with certain tops, and vice versa. Also, make sure to consult the school's dress policy first to make sure your child can actually wear what you buy.

4. Involve your children

Back-to-school shopping provides an excellent opportunity to teach your children money management skills. Concepts like comparison shopping, distinguishing needs from wants, and sticking to a budget may all be taught during back-to-school shopping. By involving your children in the decision-making process, you can help them learn life-long financial literacy lessons.

5. Look for deals year round

Nothing says your children must start the first day of school with a closet full of new outfits. Buy the necessities prior to the first day of class and then keep an eye on sales and other bargains throughout the year to finish out the rest. Plus, if your child experiences a huge growth spurt, you won't have wasted your entire year's clothing budget at the beginning of the school year.

There are many simple ways to make good money management part of your daily life. Your CPA will work with you to ensure you're taking the right steps to secure your family's financial future.

Visit the VSCPA's consumer Web site for more money management tips and free resources.

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