Worst Things to Buy Before Your Kid Heads Back to School

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Worst Things to Buy Before Your Kid Heads Back to School
Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Cameron Huddleston

Whether your child is heading off to kindergarten or college, you don't want to send him or her to the classroom without the necessary supplies. So you visit your favorite online retailers or head to the mall to buy notebooks, pencils, folders, clothing and maybe even big-ticket electronic items. But buying all the items you think your child needs before he or she heads back to school can be a mistake.

Some school-related items won't drop in price until after the back-to-school sales are over. Plus, if you rush to buy everything now, you might discover that many of those purchases weren't even necessary once school starts. So to avoid spending more than you have to, here are seven things you should avoid buying before your child heads back to school.

Fall apparel. Fall clothing already is appearing in stores, and some retailers might offer small discounts on some items during back-to-school sales or over the long Labor Day weekend. But markdowns of 40 percent or more likely won't show up until mid- to late fall. Not only will you spend more than necessary if you buy fall clothes for your kids now, you might end up purchasing things your kids decide aren't cool enough because the other kids are wearing something else, says Kristin Cook, managing editor of Ben's Bargains. If your kids need clothes, she recommends taking advantage of ongoing clearance sales on summer clothes that can be worn the first month or two of school when it's still hot outside.

HDTVs. You might not consider a television as a back-to-school purchase. But if your child is heading off to college, she might ask for a small HDTV for her dorm room or apartment. The summer months are usually a bad time for TV deals, though, says Mark LoCastro, spokesperson for DealNews.com. Wait until November when HDTV prices are the lowest of the year during Black Friday sales.

School supplies. Wait until you get a supply list from your child's teacher before purchasing anything. Otherwise you could end up with the wrong type of supplies or an abundance of things your child won't use. If possible, try to get by for a couple of weeks with what your child still has from the previous year because big-box retailers such as Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT) will dramatically mark down school supplies after Labor Day, Cook says.

Smartphones. Even elementary-age kids are taking phones to school now. So if your child has been pestering you to buy one, hold off until later in the fall. After new models are revealed, older versions will be available for deep discounts, says Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com. In particular, don't rush to buy the new Amazon Fire Phone, LoCastro says. DealNews.com research shows that Android phones, even popular ones, see discounts of about 50 percent within the first two to three months after release. There's a good chance that Amazon (AMZN) will discount its Android phone in order to remain competitive in a crowded market, LoCastro says.

Tablets. You won't see deals on many tablets now because demand is high, says Joe Warner, assistant managing editor of Ben's Bargains. Wait until Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to find deals, he says. Or consider buying your child a laptop, instead, especially if he's heading off to college. With so many sales on laptops now through the start of school, they're cheaper and more practical than tablets, LoCastro says.

Textbooks. Don't buy textbooks for your college students until they've attended one class and are sure they won't drop it, says Trae Bodge, senior editor of RetailMeNot.com. Look for used, rather than new, textbooks on sites BigWords.com and CampusBooks.com. See How to Cut Your Textbook Costs in Half -- or More for more ways to save.

Trendy gear. If you buy your child a backpack or lunchbox before school starts, you run the risk of having your child change her mind about what she wants after she sees what the other kids are using to bring their books and lunch to school, says Regina Novickis, savings expert at PromotionalCodes.com. Encourage your child to use her current gear for a few weeks. Then you can make a safe investment knowing your child has what she wants, Novickis says. Plus, by waiting, you might score discounts on items that didn't sell during the back-to-school rush.

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Worst Things to Buy Before Your Kid Heads Back to School
Most of us spend a ton of time researching our options when we first sign up for a plan or policy, then forget all about it and make monthly payments like a robot. But this can cost you.

If you've been on the same cell phone plan for a while, or you haven't looked at the terms of your insurance policies (home, life, auto) since you got them, it's time to do a review. Your circumstances may have changed, and new plans or deductions may have come out since you first signed up. Call up customer service (or your agent) and have them walk you through your options if you're having trouble comparing things on your own.
One of the biggest budget sucks is our own forgetfulness. We miss payments and incur late fees because we've misplaced our statement or didn't manage to get our mail out in time. We fail to save as much as we'd like because we just never remember to do it.

The easiest way to save yourself some money (and hassle and stress) is to set it and forget it. Sign up for auto-pay so your monthly bills are automatically deducted from your checking account. Have a certain amount automatically transferred each month from your checking to your savings account. Remove the human error factor, and your budget will be better for it.
We charge so much nowadays -- whether on credit cards or debit cards -- that it's easy to spend a lot of money without really registering it. When you have a set amount of bills in your wallet, however, it's extremely easy to see how much you've spent so far this month and how much is left.

Take those budget categories of yours -- groceries, entertainment, etc. -- and turn them into real, physical envelopes. At the beginning of each month, put that month's allotment of cash into each envelope. When you're running low, you'll know you need to be careful with your purchases. When you're out, you're done spending on that category till next month.
If you're prone to impulse purchases, imposing a waiting period on yourself is an easy way to break the cycle.

For large purchases, a 30-day waiting list is best. Write down the item that's calling to you, then wait 30 days before allowing yourself to buy it. You may realize in that time that you don't need it after all. Or you may forget why it called to you in the first place.

For smaller impulse buys, like that fancy new product you spotted in the grocery aisle, follow a 10-second rule. Before the item can go into your cart, spend 10 full seconds asking yourself if you really need it and how you will use it. Simply analyzing why you're getting something can disrupt the siren call of a product.
It's all too easy to blow $5, $10, even $20 on something, whether it's an extra meal out or a coffee on the run. In the grand scheme of things, it "doesn't seem like much" to us. But if you start thinking of your money in terms of the time it took you to earn that money, suddenly you find yourself evaluating your spending choices a little closer.

Figure out what you make per hour if you're salaried (if you're hourly, this will be easy). Let's say you make $15 per hour. For every $15 you spend, you'll have to spend another hour of your time at work to pay for that item. A coffee a day for a week can cost you an hour or two. And bigger items, like that flat screen TV you're eyeing? You get the drift. Framing purchases in light of time spent can help you make sure something is worth it.
In the end, a budget is simply a means of making sure your money is working for you. It allows you to see how much you're brining in and allocate it towards the things that are most important to you. If you can hold those bigger goals in mind, everyday budgeting becomes easier.

If you're wondering whether or not to buy something, ask yourself if that money would be better spent towards your big goal. Put a visual reminder in your wallet to keep you on task-like a photo of a sandy beach if you're trying to save up money for a trip. Viewing your budget in terms of what it will allow you accomplish-not the things it won't allow you to buy, can revolutionize your spending.
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