SOURCE: Take Charge America

August 04, 2008 13:06 ET

Take Charge America Puts Families at the Head of the Class With Back-to-School Budget Advice

Eight Financial Tips Create Worry-Free First Day Despite National Spending Increases

PHOENIX, AZ--(Marketwire - August 4, 2008) - Take Charge America, one of the nation's largest non-profit financial education, credit counseling and debt management organizations, is offering financial tips for families faced with rising back-to-school costs.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), despite the nation's recession, families with school-age children are expected to increase average spending to approximately $563.40 on back-to-school merchandise, while national totals for back-to-school shopping are expected to reach $18.4 billion.

"Most families are already strapped for cash, and back-to-school shopping presents another drain on their already limited funds," said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America. "While it is important to provide children the necessities in clothing and materials, if families step back and analyze their children's wants and what they actually need, they can make financially sound decisions instead of pushing themselves further into debt."

At Take Charge America, certified credit counselors provide financial advice for families dealing with the added pressure and expense of back-to-school. Families in need of help can contact TCA at 1-888-822-9193. Sullivan adds his own quick tips for families to face the first day of school within budget, and worry-free:

1. Don't Purchase Supplies on a Credit Card -- One of the biggest mistakes families make is using the credit card to "fund" back-to-school-purchases. Why so costly? Based on an average APR of 19.9%, paying the supplies off at the minimum monthly payment will take several years and the accrued interest charges will be more than double the amount of the original purchase.

2. Create a Back-to-School Budget -- How many times have you gone shopping for a few small items, and come back with much, much more? It happens to all of us, and it can be detrimental to our pocketbooks. Create a list of what your child absolutely needs and stick to it. If your child is shopping with you, explain your strategy ahead of time and enlist him or her in helping you find the best bargains. This can be a good opportunity to brush up on math and life skills for your child.

3. Wait it Out -- Unless your child's school requires uniforms, don't buy your child's entire back-to-school wardrobe before school starts. Buy a few items for those important first days and let them scope out the new trends before purchasing the rest. Most kids wear a few favorite things anyway so large wardrobes usually lead to unworn or barely worn items. When it comes to supplies, wait and see what teachers require before making extensive purchases. This way you won't purchase things your child doesn't need.

4. Recycle Supplies -- If your child's backpack or binder is still in good shape; don't purchase a new one just because it's a new school year. Have your child invite several friends over and express individual identities by creating backpacks/binders with stickers, patches and buttons from favorite bands, stars or athletes. These personalized items help children stand out in a positive way and provide social and creative outlets. If new items must be purchased, look for classic styles and designs that won't go out of style before the next year.

5. Buy in Bulk -- Organize a back-to-school shopping trip with family, friends and classmates. Purchasing the basics in bulk can save a lot of cash now and in the future when more supplies are needed.

6. Break Open the Piggy Bank -- Have your children chip in for their back-to-school shopping. They will likely spend less if they are paying a percentage of the total cost. They also learn to determine priorities and manage budgets.

7. The Great Clothing Swap -- Ideal for pre-teen and high school girls, this idea also works well as a neighborhood block party for all ages. Often children's clothes aren't worn out; they are just too small or too "boring" for their current owners. Provide a change of scenery with a clothing swap among neighbors and friends. Children of all ages and sizes can benefit from a few new/old pieces that won't break the bank and teenage girls will love the selection their expanded closets provide.

8. Out with the Old, In with the New -- Once the clothing swap is complete, sell clothes that are still in good condition to consignment or used clothing stores. Use the money you make to help purchase new clothing items. Anything left over can go to charity. Consignment stores and "off-the-rack" distributors also provide a great resource for your children's high-fashion desires at a more affordable rate.

"It is natural for parents to want to provide everything their child asks for," said Sullivan. "However, children also appreciate a home where their parents are happy, healthy and unburdened by the worries of excessive debt. They can learn to appreciate the long-term benefits of fiscal responsibility versus instant gratification."

ABOUT TAKE CHARGE AMERICA

Founded in 1987, Take Charge America is currently celebrating more than 20 years of service as one of the country's largest non-profit financial education and consumer debt service organizations. Through education, customized credit counseling and debt management, Take Charge America helps consumers achieve self-reliance, financial stability and financial freedom. Take Charge America is a member of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies, a national membership organization established to promote quality and consistent delivery of credit counseling services. In 2006, the organization received the Better Business Bureau Ethics Award in recognition of its business ethics and integrity in the marketplace. To learn more about the organization or its programs, please call 1-888-822-9193 or visit www.takechargeamerica.org.

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