Top Back-to-School Shopping Mistakes

shutterstock_82999960If you have kids in school — K through 12 or college — you don’t need anyone to remind you that back-to-school season has arrived.

Between those early-season sales and last-minute shopping, there’s plenty of potential for trouble in the realm of personal finance — all the more so if you’re buying school supplies or clothes on a tight or non-existent budget.

After you survive this ritual, there is a veritable conga line of holidays — Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, etc. — each jumping up and down, screaming “What about me?!” and presenting financial challenges if you’re not exactly flush.

A little planning now could make a big difference in what you can spend as 2014 draws nearer.

With that in mind, here are seven mistakes you should avoid when doing your back-to-school shopping.

1. Failing to Establish a Budget Before You Start

If cash flow is an issue, it’s a huge mistake to wade into the back-to-school shark tank if you haven’t set a budget. Stream of consciousness shopping can only get you into trouble.

Figure out what you can afford to spend, make a comprehensive list, even consult with your children to make sure you are getting what they want (especially if the choice is between Man of Steel, Iron Man, Spiderman, Dora or Barbie backpacks and notebooks) in the context of what they need.

Unless it is absolutely necessary (or a family bonding exercise) to have them with you, it’s best to leave the munchkins at home. If you want to know their preferences, browse with them online before hitting the stores.

The last thing you need is to be weaving through crowds at Staples, Kmart or Target, or navigating several online retailers, while fending off cries of, “I really NEED to have this” and falling into the trap of running a “dollars for peace” program.

Democracy is a wonderful thing, except when it involves back-to-school shopping.

2. Jumping at Store Credit Cards

When you’re standing at the cash register and the cashier offers 5 or 10 percent off a big purchase if you get their retail credit card, the offer may sound tempting.

In many cases, however, it’s best to resist.

While upfront savings are nice, most store cards come with higher interest rates than you would pay if you made those purchases with a general purpose credit card.

So before you apply, consider whether or not you’ll be carrying a balance, and if the answer is yes, proceed with extreme caution, because any discount you get at the register is likely to be wiped out by the interest rates you pay on the balance, not to mention late fees if you happen to forget that you have a new bill to pay.

Also, be wary of taking these deals at multiple locations. If you have too many credit inquiries on your credit report, your credit score could suffer, which could result in higher interest rates on future loans.

3. Shopping When Hungry, Tired or Rushed

Because back-to-school shopping has the aura of necessity, it’s easy to make impulsive purchases.

That’s especially true when you walk into the store fatigued, starving, or at 11 p.m. the night before the first day of school.

In addition to paying too much money, your distracted brain might cause you to make poor credit decisions, and end up throwing everything on a higher interest credit card because you are too tired to care.

While this last point may not seem like personal finance advice, it is. Eat something before you shop. Take a nap if you can. Go early.

By taking all the above common-sense steps to guard your finances and avoid credit mistakes, your child’s schooling on important financial matters will start long before the buses start rolling again.

This article was originally written by Adam Levin and published on August 8, 2013 at Credit.com. Read the article in its entirety by clicking here.

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