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Connie Prater

Spending for back to school? Check out nail salons, tattoo parlors and kids' closets

How much are you spending on back-to-school supplies or clothes for your children this year?

I haven't set up a budget, but being the frugal mom that I am, I'm hoping it's as little as possible. My teenage daughter, however, may have different thoughts about this.

With her, cost is often an afterthought. A Capital One survey released this week found teens and parents have vastly different views of how much school supplies cost. Only 41 percent of the teens surveyed said they expect their parents to spend more than $100 shopping for school, but 68 percent of parents expect they will spend more than $100. To me, that says teens often don't have a clue about how much things cost today.

'How much is that?'
My little one is no exception. After years of me asking, "How much is that?" when she came back to the shopping cart with items of food or other merchandise, I think I've trained her well.

But then this past weekend as we were shopping for school clothes, I wondered again if my message of thrift is sticking. We went to a trendy secondhand clothing store that's popular with teens. She picked out three pairs of jeans, two scarves and about three shirts and a jacket. Since this was a secondhand store, I was expecting these things to cost very little. I hadn't hovered over her as she went down the aisles, but let her pick the things she wanted.

At the checkout register, the total rang up at $107. I hadn't really looked at the items, but I picked up one pair of jeans, frowning. They looked too small for her. I asked my daughter if she had tried on any of the pants to see if they fit. She hadn't. "Well, before I spend $100 on these, let's make sure that they at least fit." She tried them on and came back and said one pair was too small, but she would pass on buying any of the pants and got the shirts and scarves instead.

Pants are a sore point with me. Why? In her closet are two stacks of folded jeans that have never or rarely been worn. She has a favorite pair of skinny jeans that are worn several times a week (despite my objections). Why bother buying more pants that won't be worn? She says those little-used jeans in her closet are out of style. Sigh. Parents, do you feel my pain?

Stretching clothes into another school year
I'm not alone in asking about existing clothes that can be worn another year to save money on this year's spending. According to the National Retail Federation, more parents are posing the same questions as they seek to trim back-to-school spending in these tough economic times.

"Families aren't opposed to spending on what they need, but parents want their children to take a good look around at what they already have before deciding what to buy for back to school this year," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a press release on the trade group's annual back-to-school survey. According to the federation's poll, parents of kids in grades K through 12 will spend an average of $603.63 this year, down slightly from last year's $606.40.

"Retailers understand consumers are extremely focused on value and are taking this opportunity to offer substantial savings on merchandise," Shay said.

Another survey on back-to-school shopping released in July 2011 by American Express found even higher spending expectations, perhaps because it included parents of college-age children. According to the results, the average family of four expects to spend $800 on average shopping for school this year. The amounts rise as the children get older, with the least spent on kindergarteners ($250) and the most on college students ($940). AmEx's Spending and Saving Tracker surveyed 811 parents of children in kindergarten through college between July 2 and 6, 2011. People with high school teens such as mine expect to spend $470. For me, I think that will work out to just over $300.

Pedicures and tattoos
This week, my teen got a manicure and pedicure (paid for using her debit card and her own funds) just in time for the start of school next week. In my day, this was never standard practice, but times have changed. According to the AmEx survey, one in five parents (19 percent) said they or their children plan to spend an average of $50 on manicures and pedicures for their children's return to school.

One percent of those surveyed said tattoos were on tap before school. Teeth whitening (7 percent), waxing (6 percent) were also planned. Is it just me? Are tattoos really essential for school? Ri-i-i-ight. Nothing says "I'm eager to learn" like a tramp stamp.

Overall, more than a third of the parents (39 percent) said they expect to spend money on "cosmetic services" -- haircuts, manicures, etc. -- for their children with the average amount at $60. More than a quarter of parents in the survey (28 percent) said they expect to buy beauty products -- makeup and hair and skin care products -- for their children and spend an average of $70.

OK. I get that teens want to feel good about themselves and look good for their return to school. I asked my daughter how often she planned to get manicures and pedicures and she said not very often. No doubt seeing the dent these purchases put in her savings account. Lesson learned -- I hope.

How about you? Are you sticking to the basics for back to school or getting the "extras" for your children? Remember, there will be other expenses as the school year progresses: homecoming dances, football tickets, band and choir fees, college entrance exams, field trips and the Spring dance.

See also: Back to school credit card advice for students, parents
 

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