Back-to-school shopping: how to tame the 'gotta have it' monster

11:54 AM, Jul 30, 2013   |    comments
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GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -  Advertisers are working hard right now to sell our children on the "must haves" for back-to-school shopping.  And even very young children can be seduced by the enticing ads. But it's up to parents to put these demands in perspective and help children make reasonable decisions. As with so many parenting situations, this presents not only a challenge, but also an opportunity to teach children skills and attitudes for life.

This morning, Dr. Marti Erickson, developmental psychologist and co-host of,  shared some tips on just how to do that.

Here are Dr. Marti's tips for parents:

1. Acknowledge your child's needs. 

Sometimes it's tempting to meet a child's demands with a dismissive, "Oh, you don't need that!" But that kind of response sets up a power struggle. Instead, you can keep communication open by simply saying, "Yes, I can see that you'd really like to have that."

2. Declare a waiting period before shopping.

Suggest in the meantime that your children keep a running list of those "must have" items. Children and teens are impulsive; when they want something they want it right now. Yet, if they wait a week or two, the item they so desperately "needed" may barely be remembered - or already may have been declared post-peak by the peer group. It's often smart to buy only one or two essential items before school begins, then wait a few weeks before doing major shopping. 

3. Set up a realistic back-to-school budget.

Engage your children in comparison shopping to figure out what they can afford. Sometimes it's helpful to get a feel for the market by looking through catalogs first. When children know their parents are serious about the budget, they often can make very wise choices about how to get the most for their money. 

4. Divide your shopping trip into two stages: scout first, then buy.

This is a great technique to avoid impulse buying and encourage careful decision-making. Make it clear to your children that the first time through the mall you are not going to buy anything, but are only going to look at the options. Have your children take a notebook and keep track of the items they like, noting brand, color, size, and price. Then sit down and have a snack while you go over the list together and decide what to go back and purchase. 

5. Help children find ways to earn money for items beyond the budget.

Whether they do extra household chores for you or, if they're old enough, babysitting or lawn work for neighbors, earning money for things they want will build their confidence and increase their appreciation of what they have.

For more parenting tips, visit

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