Back-to-school shopping can bite parents in the wallet if they don't budget for the expense.
It's almost time for school to start, and children need pencils, notebooks, shoes, backpacks, blue jeans and a whole lot more.
The costs of back-to-school shopping can add up. After parents buy new clothes and supplies and replace last year's out-grown tennis shoes, they can spend a few hundred dollars. An American Express retail index estimated back-to-school shopping expenditures will be up 12 percent this year, averaging $455 per student. Consumer credit counselors say that many American households may make those purchases on credit cards and will be in for a shock when the bills roll in.
At SuperTarget this week, only a few garden hoses and backyard grills remained in the seasonal section. The rest of the large room was filled with binders and pens, notebooks and erasers.
Courtney Chilcoat, 7, McLouth, was trying to convince her grandmother, Kay Reese, McLouth, to buy her a new Mickey Mouse backpack.
"Let me think about it, Courtney," said Reese, who was picking up supplies for Courtney and her sister, Kayla Chilcoat, 8, who also attends McLouth Elementary School. They didn't have a budget, at least "not with Grandma shopping," but she was trying to keep the two under control.
Keeping a handle on back-to-school spending isn't an easy task. It takes most parents four days of shopping prepare for school. According to the American Express retail index, parents will spend an average of $342 per child this year, while teens will spend an extra $113.
Teens may have to kick in for what they want. Fashion-conscious teens will want to arrive at school in clothes from Tommy Hilfiger, The Gap, Old Navy, Levi Strauss and Ralph Lauren, according to the index. Budget-conscious parents set spending limits; teens will have to pay up to get what they want.
Anne Ross, 13, who'll attend Southwest Junior High School, is planning to spend about $100 of her own money on back-to-school shopping.
"It costs about that much to get a bunch of nice clothes," she said. This year's "nice clothes" are vests from Old Navy and cargo pants.
"If I want something that (mother) doesn't think is nice, I'll buy it," Anne said.
Her mother, Nancy Ross, said the family will probably spend around $500 total on items for Anne and her brother Michael Ross, 10, who attends Sunflower School. Michael just got a new pair of tennis shoes and Anne needs a new backpack. Even paper and pencils add up quickly.
"When the kids return to school after summer vacation, parents may not realize how much money is required to get ready for the new academic year," said Nancy Nauser, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Kansas City and Mid-Missouri. "Unfortunately, back-to-school expenses are often overlooked when figuring annual expenses or preparing a budget."
Consumer credit counseling agencies see more people in the late fall, once the credit card bills for back-to-school shopping and leftover summer vacation charges hit home.
"I think the American household -- particularly those that don't budget year-round -- will get some pretty nasty surprises during this time of year," said Durant Abernethy, president of the nonprofit National Foundation for Consumer Credit in Silver Spring, Md.
The answer to avoiding that crunch lies in budgeting and smart shopping. Pat Wilson of Lawrence had her spending carefully mapped out. She was wielding a school supply list and cart at SuperTarget this week as her daughters gathered what they needed.
"They're going to get everything on the list," she said, but only the plain, inexpensive versions.
Her older daughter, Sirita Duncan, 16, will attend Lawrence High School, and Cameo Duncan, 11, is a Prairie Park School student. "I gave them each $20 for school supplies," Pat Wilson said.
The girls' new clothes were purchased on sale. Wilson guessed she spent about $200 apiece on their clothes -- jeans, khaki pants, sweaters and T-shirts.
"I found their shoes at the sidewalk sale," she said.
Another suggestion from credit counselors to avoid a money crunch in the fall is to create an interest-bearing account for non-recurring expenses, such as back-to-school shopping or vacations. Setting aside extra money throughout the year can guarantee that buying a new backpack and updating children's wardrobes won't leave parents in the lurch.
For information on budgeting, check out the Consumer Credit Counseling Service's Web site at www.cccsedu.org.
-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.