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How back-to-school shopping can be a budget lesson for kids

Publisher, editor-in-chief and author at Chicken Soup for the Soul.

When my children were little we went to Disney World every fall. My friends thought I was crazy, but the kids loved it and I think I enjoyed it even more than they did. Except for one thing. Souvenirs.

The kids would drive me nuts asking for souvenirs, to the point that in the stores I would try to block my daughter's view of the stuffed animals and my son's view of the superhero items.

Then I discovered Disney Dollars. The next time we went to Disney World, I gave each child 50 Disney Dollars to spend on souvenirs. They started evaluating every possible purchase as if they worked for Consumer Reports, and we returned home with half their Disney Dollars unspent.

It's back-to-school shopping season out there, and I remember how that feels. Our school had a dress code and it could get expensive. I'll never forget when my 12-year-old son Mike went off to the first day of school in a brand-new navy blue blazer and came home wearing a bedraggled old one that barely fit him. The $100 blazer that I had bought just a little too big for him, so that it would last the entire school year, was gone. He said his friend needed a larger jacket so they swapped.

That was the last straw in a series of clothing disappearances. I thought back to the Disney Dollars experience and I decided it was time to change the dynamic in our household. I sat the kids down and laid out their annual clothing budget. I would give them half their budget in the fall and half in the spring. My daughter opted for a debit card that I refilled every six months, and my son opted for a savings account.

It was heavenly. I drove them to the stores, we shopped together, and we each paid for our own purchases. If my son lost something, it was not my problem, and he learned a lesson about caring for his possessions. There were no arguments over clothing, no pleading for more, and no frustration on either side. We actually had fun shopping.

The advice columnist Abigail Van Buren summed it up perfectly when she said, "If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders." I gave my children the responsibility for what they wore on their shoulders, literally. My son became much more careful, although he did lose his blazer one more time, the night before an important ninth-grade event. With my new attitude, I just thought it was funny when he had to wear a pastel plaid jacket from the lost and found.

For a similar story read "Take My Hand" from Chicken Soup for the Mother and Daughter Soul.

Photo credit: uniquely india/Getty Images
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