Back-to-school shopping: Use it to teach kids about money

2. Prioritizing purchases

Stace Maude/AP/File
A box of various school supplies are seen in this July 13, 2008, photo in West Milford, N.J. Teach children how to prioritize between the school supplies they need and the ones they want.

A back-to-school list can range from notebooks, pencils, and binders to a new backpack, sneakers, and trendy jeans. Before going to the store, divide the big list between wants and needs, Ms. Wollan suggests. “Talk with the children about what are their highest-priority items.... There are certain things you have to have and other things you can think about.”

Giving kids a choice is an easy way to involve them in making decisions about money. It’s important to communicate, “if you choose that [item], that will affect how much money you have for other things,” says James Lemay, a certified public accountant in Boston.

[Editor's note: The original version misidentified James Lemay as a certified personal accountant.]

“What really helps is having a list and putting the needs at the top of the list,” before going to a store, suggests Mr. Lemay, director of Daigle & Associates, a financial advisory firm. “Before we hit all the wants on the list, we need to take care of the needs on the list.”

Prioritizing should generate a discussion between parents and children, Wollan says.

“When it comes to negotiable items, we would strongly encourage parents to take into account children’s input,” Wollan says. “The question of style and fitting in … we might want to minimize the importance, but from a child’s standpoint, that may not be appropriate.”

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