Ask Chuck: How to Save Money Back-to-School Shopping

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Dear Chuck,

This year I'll have three children in school and I'm dreading the cost of uniforms and school supplies. They're all at an age where they notice the things their friends have and feel embarrassed if their belongings aren't quite as nice. I want to teach them about good stewardship, but I also want to give my kids nice things. What would you suggest?

Thanks,

Stuck on School Shopping

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Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late, Larry Burkett.

Dear Stuck,

I understand where you're coming from! Back to school shopping is a tradition in America. I remember the excitement of shopping for new clothes, shoes, and a lunchbox with my parents. Breaking open a new box of crayons and using new pencils with perfect erasers was a great feeling.

But, shopping for school supplies today has become costly both financially and emotionally. Children feel peer pressure to have the "right" stuff. Some even fear bullying if they don't. That puts mom and dad in a predicament.

The solution? Raise your children with so much love and acceptance that they can stand against the pressures of this world. Show them you love them and that Christ loves them even more. The sooner they learn this the more content they'll be and appreciative for what you can provide.

The writer of Hebrews said, "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you."' (Hebrews 13:5 ESV)

Children armed with this truth can withstand the cruelty of others and will find their self-worth in the Lord, not things. Teach them at a young age that they can always turn to you for support, especially when things get tough.

Granted, they still need school supplies, so let's get practical. Teachers assemble their lists knowing what items work well. Certain glue or markers, for example, are requested for a reason. So, honor the teacher and bless your child by getting the correct supplies from the list without overspending.

Set a budget and resolve to have fun! Shopping wisely requires that you assemble your lists and keep them with you at all times. Plan ahead and avoid the back to school rush — which probably means you need to start shopping NOW. Try to allow yourself several days, if not weeks, to gather the items.

Naturally you need to consider the cost of your time and gas money. Stop and shop when you're near certain stores, or combine the trip with other errands.

Start at Home

Reuse any binders or folders that are in good shape from last year. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sending recycled rulers, compasses, protractors, and calculators. Have any left over new pens or pencils? Gather them together. Emphasize to your kids how wonderful it is that you can apply the saved money towards other supplies.

Online

Check trusted sites and compare prices on your list before you purchase anything.

Shop Goodwill

Thrift shops usually have a section of school and office supplies. This is a great place to search if you have time. While there, look for classic, well-made clothes. We managed to keep our boys in thrift shop khaki shorts and pants for many years.

Grocery Stores and Pharmacies

Scour the school supply aisle and see what's on sale. Stock up when spiral notebooks, paper, or other commonly used items are marked down. If you end up with more than your kids need, you can return them, save for later in the year, or give to others.

Office Supply and Big Box Stores

Sometimes these have really big sales on certain items. But other things may be pricier to make up for the price loss of the sale items. The key: know your prices!

Recruit

Grandparents or close friends can be a big help. Let them know what you need and they may be able to check stores and sales for you. In fact, with a network of friends, you can commit to shop for each other when you find great deals.

Uniforms

Seek hand-me-downs and shop used uniform sales. Some schools even have uniform closets for items that have been donated. If shopping now, start with the basics and keep an eye out for items you will need as the year goes by. If you find a good deal on things that are too big, buy them and store until needed.

Older children can be trusted with the responsibility to purchase what they need. Encourage them to be frugal and reward them with a portion of the money saved.

If you have supplies you no longer need, pass them along to someone else or teachers who usually welcome extra supplies.

Education is a privilege that many families in the world only dream of. Yes, it costs something. But, you can be faithful in little things and teach your children along the way. Just remember to keep things in perspective when preparing for the new school year. Keep your eyes on the prize with a grateful heart.

Like Paul taught Timothy, "But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world." (1 Timothy 6:6-7 ESV)

Those new backpacks, lunch bags, and washable markers won't go with you. But, you can bless your children with them and thank God for all he provides. And, you can find joy in stewarding even little things well.

I also commend you for wanting to teach your children the lesson of stewardship from an early age. This is a lesson best learned in the home! Crown has a wonderful new resource— Raising Money Wise Kids — designed to help parents teach their children what the Bible says about money and how to live as faithful stewards. It's full of timeless biblical wisdom and fun, practical activities and lessons. It's the perfect way to finish your summer! Claim your copy now!

Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is an author, host of My MoneyLife, a daily radio feature, and a columnist for the Christian Post and a well-known speaker. Follow Crown @CrownUpdates. For interviews or speaking requests contact media@crown.org.