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personal finance tips

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If you believe those commercials for a certain office supplies chain, it's the most wonderful time of the year. It's certainly a wonderful time for the peddlers of back-to-school merchandise.

It can also be a wonderful time to take stock of your spending and teach your children some healthy financial habits, says Sarah Deveau, author of Money Smart Mom: Financially Fit Parenting.

Most kids haven't outgrown all of their clothing and lost all of their school supplies since classes let out in June, says Ms. Deveau, a mom of three in Airdrie, Alta. "But many parents automatically shop as though they had."

For her part, Ms. Deveau is preparing her eldest daughter, 5-year-old Kate, for her kindergarten debut with a lesson in financial compromise: She can have the $20 Hanna Montana shoes she wants, but the second pair will be the $5 sneakers without the expensive Disney label.

"We talk about what we're going to buy, get our expectations straight right from the start," says Ms. Deveau, who uses such shopping trips as an opportunity to discuss spending choices and where money comes from.

"There's no need to buy each child a whole new wardrobe and a backpack full of sparkly new school supplies just because September 1 is approaching," Ms. Deveau says. "Smart shoppers know what they already have and can make do with, then shop the sales to fill in the gaps. Reining in spending on supplies and clothing can allow parents to make bigger contributions to Registered Education Savings Plans, which is a much better investment in their children's schooling."

Ms. Deveau offers the following tips to parents looking to spend less this year on clothing and school supplies:

Get the kids involved. If your children are involved in every step of the process, they're less likely to badger and whine for items they understand are not in the budget. They'll also ensure you don't waste money buying items they'll refuse to wear.

Compile an inventory. Empty the closets and scour the house for last year's pencil crayons and binders. Don't forget to check the basement or anywhere else you may have stashed clothing bought at end-of-season sales previously.

Make a list of needs. Decide which items are needed to bulk up last year's wardrobe and school supplies, and what can be bought later in after-Christmas sales.

Set a budget. Knowing what you can afford to spend will ensure you're not still paying off a credit card balance long after your kids have outgrown the items.

Shop around. Keep an eye on flyers and check out the loss leaders, especially when it comes to school supplies. While large discount stores might have the overall best price, certain items can be much cheaper when office supply stores price them low to get you in the door.

Shop the clearance racks. As new designs arrive, old styles go on sale, making this an ideal time to buy off-season clothing for next year at huge discounts. Discounted summer t-shirts can also be layered over light-weight long-sleeve shirts when the temperatures drop.

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