Why Kids Will Feel the Pinch on Back-to-School Duds

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If any good came of the recession it was that individuals refocused their values and that families started discussing debt and what they could and could not truly afford. Psychologists predict it’s just a matter of time before rampant consumerism returns. But the way the back-to-school shopping season is shaping up, any such reversion seems a ways off.

Parents and kids are having an old-fashioned heart-to-heart about what they’ll spend this year, according to Capital One’s 12th annual back-to-school survey. Nearly 70% of parents and 84% of teens say they’ve talked about needs versus wants, and half say they’re sticking to a budget. Well over half of both parents and kids say they have worked together to make a list of back-to-school items.

These conversations are taking place at a much higher rate than in previous years. Last year, for example, fewer than one in three parents and teens made a budget or a shopping list. These discussions are the silver lining of a slow economy. Students who talk about money with their parents and who are forced to make choices about material things generally experience fewer debt and money-related problems later in life.

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“These are sometimes tough conversations to have for both parents and teens, but extremely important as many teens are looking to their parents for information on money management topics like budgeting and saving,” says Shelley Solheim, director of Financial Education at Capital One.

The survey found that the weak economy would influence the spending of 59% of parents. They are thinking ahead—70% have been looking for deals all summer. They are being frugal—49% will do most of their shopping at a discount store.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that spending will be down. A Deloitte survey found that 90% of families would spend the same or more this year. But that is almost entirely a function of need. More than half say their spending will not fall simply because the same items cost more this year; a third say their kids require more expensive items this year. School budget cuts are layering on more costs as well. In the Capital One survey, 42% cited the need to purchase items that the school previously provided.

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While family discussions around back-to-school shopping are encouraging, it should be noted that these discussions are not taking place year round. Only a third of parents say they talk to their kids about money more than once a week. That’s a shame because in surveys teens indicate a willingness to learn about such things as checking accounts, budgeting, saving and investing. You can have the talk anytime—not just when your child “needs” a pair of Air Jordans.