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How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Parents often revel in the calm and quiet that comes when kids head back to school, but they aren’t likely to enjoy the excess spending that also accompanies the back-to-school season. According to the National Retail Federation, parents will set a record in 2019, spending an average of $696.70 per household on children in elementary school through high school.

 

“It was interesting to see the across-the-board increases in spending levels,” said Mark Mathews, vice president for research development and industry analysis with the NRF. “Elevated levels of consumer sentiment, healthy household balance sheets, low inflation and recent wage gains all seem to be contributing to a confident consumer who is willing to spend money on back-to-school supplies.”

If you’re planning a trip to the store before classes start, there are a few ways to curb the spending and save some bucks.

Plan ahead

No parent should set foot out the door for back-to-school shopping without first taking stock of what they already have. Plenty of old supplies from previous years might still be usable, especially arts and crafts items like crayons, pencils and pens, as well as more expensive things like backpacks, lunch boxes and calculators.

Crossing a few items off your list is a good first step when it comes to saving, but learning how to budget is also important. It’s tempting to run down the back-to-school aisle and grab every colorful notebook and snazzy pencil case in sight, but it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. Create a realistic budget based on the items you actually need, and try your best to stick to it. If possible, do most of your shopping online, since it’s easier to keep a running tally of how much you’re spending as you shop.

Be smart about sales

Although you’re bound to run into many back-to-school sales this time of year, you don’t need to buy 12 notebooks just because they’re cheaper right now. In fact, you shouldn’t assume the sales price is the best price at all, said consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. Instead, always comparison shop.

“Run a quick Google search online or on your phone to see if another store is selling the same or a similar item for less,” she said. “Most big box stores will price match, so you won’t even have to drive to another store to get the better deal.” For example, Target, Staples and Walmart all have price matching policies.

Clip coupons and shop discount stores

Coupons have definitely made a digital comeback, with countless apps and websites dedicated to listing all your options in one place. “Spending a few minutes looking for coupons can help you get a better discount,” Woroch said. “Use apps like CouponSherpa, for instance. Or, use the Honey browser tool, which automatically searches and applies relevant coupons to your online order.”

Many stores also offer discounts to valued customers who sign up for their rewards program, like Walgreens and CVS, while craft stores like Michaels regularly offer discounts. Don’t knock purchasing basics like paper and writing supplies from the Dollar Tree, either — you might be surprised by what you find, and those types of items are often the same quality wherever you buy them.

Tax advantage of tax-free holidays

On select dates throughout the year, different states offer state sales tax holidays, or days where you can purchase items without having to pay sales tax on them. You can find a full list of the 2019 state sales tax holidays here, but some upcoming ones include:

  • August 18-24: Connecticut, clothing and footwear
  • August 17-18: Massachusetts, specific items costing less than $2,500 per item

Split bulk purchases

You can usually save money by buying certain items — like construction paper, pens, pencils and folders — in bulk, but you can save even more by splitting those bulk items with other families. Not only is this a great way to share savings, Woroch said, but you can earn rewards faster by charging everything on your card and then having the families pay you back.

Redeem your rewards

If you have a cash back credit card, now’s the time to use it. “Most credit cards give you the best redemption value when you opt for statement credit or have the cash rewards deposited into your bank,” Woroch said. “You can set this money aside for back-to-school shopping.”

Alternatively, Woroch suggested checking to see if your particular card allows you to redeem points for gift cards to retailers where you plan to shop.

Use discounted gift cards

Besides redeeming credit card points for retailer gift cards, you can also scour the web for cheap gift cards online. Planning a trip to Target? Scan websites like Raise, Cardpool and CardCash first. These sites buy and sell unused gift cards at a discount, meaning you can save on purchases you were planning to make anyway.

Consider having your kids contribute

Depending on your child’s age, back-to-school shopping might be the perfect time to start having them contribute to their own goods, especially if they earn an allowance or have a job. Talking to your kids about money at a young age — whether about budgeting, saving or spending — will help them develop solid money habits that will pay off in the future.

Parents already seem to be catching on to this idea. “It was surprising to see how much of their own money kids are contributing towards the back-to-school bills,” Mathews said. “Teens and pre-teens will be spending $63 of their own money, which works out to $1.5 billion overall. This is significantly higher than the levels we saw a decade ago.”

Although the news about increased spending on back-to-school supplies may be alarming, these days there are more ways than ever to save. A little ingenuity, resourcefulness and research can go a long way.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Cheryl Lock
Cheryl Lock |

Cheryl Lock is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Cheryl at [email protected]

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Emotional Spending: What It Is and How to Overcome It

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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If the lamp on your desk, the mirror above your daughter’s changing table and those trinkets in your kitchen were all purchases made after a particularly stressful situation, you might be an emotional spender.

And you’re not alone. In a 2017 survey by CompareCards.com, a fellow LendingTree company, about a third of shoppers pulled out their credit cards in an effort to make themselves feel better. The instinct was even more prevalent for millennials — a whopping 48% reported buying something recently because they were feeling down, upset or angry.

What is emotional spending?

Emotional spending is, as you might have devised, the act of buying things with the motivation to make you feel better. Colloquially, it’s often referred to as retail therapy. “I think emotional spending is very common,” said Megan McCoy, an adjunct faculty member for Kansas State’s Financial Therapy Certificate Program and secretary on the Financial Therapy Association’s board of directors. “Anecdotally speaking, I think we saw a marked increase in this type of spending with the rise of online retailers — especially when free shipping and free returns became a thing. Emotional spending increased then because it became so easy.”

When it comes to emotional spending, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s a difference between compulsive spending and spending money every now and then because it gives you a burst of happiness. As opposed to emotional spending, compulsive spending is a disorder where spending has become a customary way of achieving self-esteem or is done to escape reality, and it often interferes with a person’s responsibilities or relationships. It’s best to consult an expert for help if you think your spending has escalated from being prompted by emotional triggers to compulsive behavior.

The root cause of emotional spending

Since emotional spending is the act of buying things to make you feel better, the spending itself is often triggered by something personal that charged you up. Of course, these triggers can range dramatically based on your personality and individual circumstances, but Dr. McCoy said that common triggers for women include relational disturbances (aka fights with a partner or other loved ones) or feelings of loneliness (aka feelings of being unloved or undesirable). Those emotions in turn cause feelings that make us want to spend since we could be thinking that once we buy those jeans or that new makeup, we’ll look different or be loved, she said.

While Dr. McCoy said that a man’s emotional spending is more likely to be fueled by reasons having to do with success (or feelings of inadequacy when it comes to success), for both men and women, emotional spending may not necessarily be something that they are even aware they are doing. “Emotional spending can be an unconscious power trip,” she said. It’s often fueled by a desire to do something that proves a person can make their own decisions and do what they want.

How to break the emotional spending cycle

A habit is, by definition, something that is hard to give up, and if you’re an emotional spender, moving away from the tendency to spend money when you’re feeling emotional can be a difficult thing. On the other hand, emotional spending is often a consequence of impulse rather than thought, Dr. McCoy added, and “by recognizing that this has been a pattern of coping in oneself, you can find other ways of coping and stop emotionally spending quite easily.”

If you recognize yourself in the above description, there are a few things you can do to help break the emotional spending cycle.

1. Come up with a list of other coping techniques. Spending money might make you feel better in the moment, but chances are after you receive your credit card bill or realize your wallet is empty when you need to buy lunch, the feelings of guilt will set in. Instead, Dr. McCoy suggested putting a little thought into some other ways to blow off steam when you feel upset. “Find out what else makes you feel regulated,” she said. For example, maybe going for a run, listening to your favorite playlist or having a cup of coffee will provide you with the same rush that spending does. At the very least, it might cause you to pause long enough to realize that you don’t actually need to spend money to feel better.

2. Do the math. Something that works with spending in general is to take a moment to consider just what that new throw pillow will cost you, even outside of its monetary value. “My favorite trick is to always do this simple math when shopping,” Dr. McCoy said. “Whatever you want to buy, just figure out how many hours you will need to work to buy it. You want to emotionally spend on a cardigan that costs $75. You make $20/hour. Is that cardigan really worth almost four hours at your job?”

3. Have a budget. With a proper budget in place, retail therapy isn’t completely forbidden, which some people might find helpful. Create a budget that provides for some level of emotional spending within those constraints. That way, if you do find yourself feeling like you need to buy that cashmere scarf after the huge blowout you had with your sister, at least you will have factored that spending into your monthly budget.

If you need a little help putting a budget together, get started with our ultimate guide to budgeting, and learn about some of the best apps to help you maintain that budget.

4. Start a journal. Studies have shown that journaling has all kinds of amazing side effects, and helping you combat your emotional spending could be one of them. Dr. McCoy suggested creating a thought journal where you record the events that led up to a shopping spree, along with the actual shopping. “Thought journals are basically the cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy,” she said. “According to CBT, thoughts and behaviors are so intertwined that sometimes we can’t remember what came first.”

By using a thought journal to record your spending habits, you’ll be able to identify the anecdotes that caused your emotional spending so you can recognize what’s actually bothering you and work on fixing the root cause. “In other words, it allows you to identify the underlying problem and fix that, instead of just dealing with the symptom — shopping,” McCoy added.

5. Create barriers to spending. Emotional spending (and overspending in general) will be harder to do if you create barriers that make it physically harder to spend. For example, remove your credit card information from being cached in the websites where you frequently spend. Unsubscribe to emails from stores you love. Set a five-minute waiting period before you spend on any nonessential items.

The bottom line

At the end of the day, emotional spending can break the bank, and it doesn’t necessarily help you deal with your actual problem — whatever it was that triggered your spending in the first place. If your emotional spending has already put you into debt, you can learn more about the emotional toll of debt and how to tackle it.

These days, online shopping makes it easier than ever to spend, and social media makes it easier than ever to identify the Joneses we want to keep up with. Luckily, with just a few small steps, emotional spending doesn’t have to be a hindrance on your finances anymore.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Cheryl Lock
Cheryl Lock |

Cheryl Lock is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Cheryl at [email protected]

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How to Have Hard Money Conversations

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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When it comes to money, 61% of women would rather talk about their own death, according to a report by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave. Meanwhile, 43% of people in a Fidelity study failed to correctly identify how much their partner makes.

If money is something we all deal with, why is it so hard to discuss? “It’s a really delicate issue because we all have different needs and priorities when it comes to finances, and what one person may value to save and protect might not be the same with someone else,” said Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of etiquette guru Emily Post and co-president of The Emily Post Institute. “Plus, even if we’re comfortable sharing, we’re aware that other people might not be.”

Of course, not talking about money isn’t really a viable option, especially when it comes to the important people in our lives, and having those hard money conversations can actually lead to a better understanding of how to manage financial issues with other people. No matter who you’re talking with, Tammy Butts, regional executive vice president and branch manager for AXA Advisors, suggested following three rules:

  1. Start early. Whether it’s a spouse or partner, your children or a roommate, the sooner you can start having money conversations, the better — “you want to ultimately have them before you’re at the crossroads.”
  2. Develop a plan. When you develop a strategy, it allows you to make solid financial decisions. A good strategy to start with is determining the important financial information you’ll need before moving forward with a conversation. Depending on whom you’re talking to and what you’re discussing, you may need to share specific details about assets, where that money is kept and what you plan to do with it.
  3. Keep communicating. One conversation is a good start, but in some cases you’ll need to talk more frequently about a particular topic. Communicating frequently about and updating your plan as necessary will allow you to make decisions and stay on track.

Besides following those three rules, understanding the etiquette and psychology behind money conversations with different types of people in your life will help you ace those particular talks the next time you need to have them.

How to talk about money with your partner

Why it can be difficult: When it comes to your partner, you could be discussing pivotal issues that greatly impact you both, like how to handle debt, how you’ll split shared financial responsibilities and whether or not you’ll be combining your finances. “When we think about equality in relationships, this is one of those places where people can feel a big divide depending on how they’re willing to contribute and see their differences,” Post said.

From an etiquette perspective: As far as etiquette goes, Post suggested coming at any conversation with your partner from a place of understanding. “Take a minute to say, ‘I know this person, but I may not know how they feel about financial matters,’” she said. “That often puts you in a place of being willing to ask questions, rather than just make statements.”

Post suggested asking your partner when a good time would be to discuss a certain financial topic, rather than demand it happen in the moment. For instance, asking if they’d be willing to sit down and have a conversation about managing joint expenses, rather than declaring that it’s time to open a joint checking account. It’s important to also ask your partner to be willing to talk about what their ideas might be and what their expectations are: “You’re trying to create a space where you’ll gather all the information about each other, rather than just come up with a solution right off the bat.” As Post noted, it should be about creating a safe space to first put forth ideas, even if you don’t come up with a solution right away.

From a financial perspective: According to Nathan Astle, student board member of the Financial Therapy Association, it’s important to remember that because money is driven by so much emotion, you should go into the conversation with a certain amount of preparation for emotional responses, for both you and your partner. Remember to speak for yourself with phrases like, “I feel,” instead of “you are,” validate their point of view (even when you disagree) and take a break if the discussion gets too heated (with the expectation that you’ll come back to the topic once you’ve cooled down). Keep the end goal that you’ll talk about what you want to get from the relationship and how you believe money can help you get there, he added.

Using a budgeting app can also help keep everything in one place so conversations are easier moving forward — here are 11 good ones that are totally free.

How to talk about money with your kids

Why it can be difficult: The types of conversations you have with your children will depend on their age, but talking about subjects like saving, credit and debt can make a big impact in your kids’ lives. In fact, while two-thirds of Americans say their family or parents influenced their saving and spending habits, only 56% of American parents said they have actually talked with their kids about money, according to a Chase survey.

From an etiquette perspective: As with your partner, Post advised to always invite your child to have a financial conversation before actually having it. Say something like, “I’d like to talk with you about your allowance, and your mom and I have some ideas and wanted to talk with you about what we’re thinking.” Depending on your plan of action, you can also let your kid know if you’re open to suggestions (as in, “Mom and I have some ideas about your allowance and wanted to get your opinion”).

From a financial perspective: Remember to always keep your kid’s maturity level in mind before bringing up emotional financial topics. “When children are involved in adult financial matters too soon, serious problems can occur,” said Sarah Swantner, a certified financial planner and financial therapist in Rapid City, South Dakota. Instead, “have age-appropriate conversations around money and involve kids in money activities that are rooted in real life, like saving for a much-wanted toy or doing chores to earn money,” said Swantner. “But keep them out of the family financial stress.”

Butts also reminded parents that talking to their kids about money shouldn’t end as they age. “Talk to them about saving when they’re in grade school and college and as young adults, as well,” she said. “I see my clients with their kids, and I have the same discussions with my own adult children about credit. It’s so important we keep educating these young people.”

How to talk about money with your parents

Why it can be difficult: At a certain point, the parent-kid conversation flips and it becomes the adult child’s responsibility to potentially talk about some uncomfortable money topics with their parents — these could include anything from legacy planning, taking over finances or overspending in retirement. It can be especially difficult if there is a history with your parents of not talking about money, Swantner said.

From an etiquette perspective: Much like the conversations before, Post suggested that any financial conversation with your parents should start with a request. “Ask permission to have the conversation, and when you get it, ask to what degree they are comfortable talking about it with you — let them know you don’t want to overstep your bounds,” she said. Always thank your parents for sharing whatever they’re willing to, and ask if you can revisit the topic again in the future to touch base and make sure things are staying the same, or to address them if they’ve changed.

From a financial perspective: The sooner you can start talking about some of these important topics and getting the infrastructure in place, the better. Still, Butts admitted that this is the topic where she tends to see the most difficulty and friction. “You don’t want any surprises, and the more you can make some of these decisions in advance so you don’t have any, you can hopefully have more harmonious outcomes,” she said. “This is where getting an advisor as a neutral third party can help facilitate those conversations.”

Without the help of a third party, however, Swantner suggested sticking to the facts. “Avoid judgments and evaluations,” she said. “Focus your conversation on yourself and not the other person, making your concerns and requests for information clear. If your parents realize they will be helping you by sharing the information, they may be more likely to open up.”

How to talk about money with your friends

Why it can be difficult: Talking to people our own age about money can bring up feelings of inadequacy if the scales seem tilted in one direction. In fact, 44% of people in a Bank of American survey said that money was a major cause of stress in a friendship.

From an etiquette perspective: You can make your life a whole lot easier by being direct with your friends about certain financial situations. “I find there are less assumptions made about me if I open up just a little bit about whether budget is or isn’t a concern,” said Post. She suggested trying something like: “Johnny, I would so love to celebrate your birthday. Financially, I’m trying to stick to my budget, but I would love to have you over for a cup of coffee for some one-on-one time.”

From a financial perspective: Keep in mind that taking some initiative can prevent most difficult money conversations with friends from happening in the first place. “Before everyone starts ordering, make sure that you are okay just splitting the bill so everyone pays for what they bought,” Astle said. There are plenty of apps available to help make splitting the bill less painful. If lending money is the issue at hand, Astle noted it’s always best to treat those situations as you would any other legal transaction. “That takes some of the hard emotional stuff out of the conversation since it keeps you, your money and the relationship safe.”

How to talk about money with your roommates

Why it can be difficult: Chatting with roommates about financial topics can be tricky, since the areas you’ll likely be covering — rent and other shared financial responsibilities — impact all parties on a daily basis. Plus, living with someone you’ve had an uncomfortable money conversation with can be downright unbearable.

From an etiquette perspective: Talking early and often is key to keeping problems at bay, but if a problem does arise — like someone missing rent, for example — it’s best to address the issue from a standpoint of “how are we going to solve this,” rather than from a place of anger, said Post. Again, you’ll want to ask for permission before having any conversation, and setting up a roommate talk on a monthly basis can help assure everyone stays on the same page.

From a financial perspective: If you have several roommates, Astle suggested treating any conversation like a family situation where everyone has equal say and everyone spends time trying to understand each individual. “It works wonders when people feel understood,” he said. Butts also recommended communicating up front that any money conversations between roommates should be about business versus personal. “If you can start by saying, ‘Let’s make this a business transaction,’ now it’s nobody pointing fingers — instead it’s about here’s what’s needed, here’s what everybody shares and here’s when it’s due.” Butts also suggested setting consequences ahead of time so there are no surprises, and potentially even putting it in writing and having everybody sign. “That way, if someone violates it, they knew, and now you aren’t just picking on them,” she said.

The bottom line

Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, at the end of the day, certain financial conversations become inevitable. Taking some time to understand the best approach in each scenario will help everyone come out of a money talk unscathed, and with the relationship still in tact.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Cheryl Lock
Cheryl Lock |

Cheryl Lock is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Cheryl at [email protected]