Back-to-school spending

It’s my favorite time of the year.

The start of school and the end of “I’m bored” will be here soon. I love my kids, but I’m tired of trying to find things to keep them occupied without breaking my summer bank. But there is a downside to sending them back to school. The spending.

Retail stores are already gearing up for the spending that comes with a return to the classroom.

I’ve tried duck-taping the holes in their backpacks, but the kids insist on new ones. Oh, well. Seriously, what do they do with those backpacks all year long to get those big holes? And I’ve tried pushing down on my son’s head but to no avail. He just keeps on getting taller and outgrowing his clothes.

The Census Bureau recently released some very interesting back-to-school statistics.

In August 2010, families spent $7.4 billion at clothing stores. Book store sales totaled $2.2 billion.

In its annual back-to-school survey, the National Retail Federation found that after cutting back on their purchases last year, parents are ready to spend this upcoming school year.

The report found that consumers with children in grades K through 12 will shell out an estimated $688.62 on back-to-school products, from clothing and school supplies to electronics, up from $603.63 last year.

The average person with children in grades K through 12 will spend $129.20 on shoes and $95.44 on school supplies such as notebooks, pencils and backpacks.

“When it comes to their children, there’s nothing more important to a parent than making sure their children have everything they need, even in a tough economy—and especially when it comes to back-to-school shopping,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

The key word there is “need.” Shop with that in mind. At any rate, here’s the Color of Money Question of the Week: What’s your best way of saving for back-to-school shopping? Share your tips so others can save, too. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and city. Put “Back-to-School Spending” in the subject line.

Let’s Chat Today

Join me today at 12:30 p.m. ET for my online text chat.

My guest will be Jack Otter, author of “Worth It Not Worth It?: Simple and Profitable Answers to Life’s Tough Financial Questions.” Otter is the executive editor of CBS MoneyWatch.com. His book was my pick for the Color of Money Book Club selection for July.

Be sure to login early or read the chat later.

Should Colleges Offer a Shopping Sheet?

This week I wrote about a new college shopping sheet released by the Department of Education.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is asking college presidents to use a new one-page “shopping sheet” intended to help students and their families clearly see the amount of loans they may need to attend an institution and how much in grants and scholarships they would receive.

As I wrote in my column, Duncan’s letter immediately made me think of the Temptations song “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” The song was about a man begging his love to stay. The key lyrics applicable in this case: “If I have to beg, plead for your sympathy, I don’t mind ’cause you mean that much to me.”

Why are we begging schools to be transparent?

We can stop the begging by passing legislation introduced this year by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) with several co-sponsors -- Democrats and Republicans. The Understanding the True Cost of College Act would require schools to use the same universal financial aid award letter so that students could easily compare financial-aid packages. Since the standard shopping sheet has been created, all that’s left to do is to make it mandatory for all.

What do you think? Should Congress make the shopping sheet mandatory? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and city. Put “Shopping Sheet” in the subject line.

Insuring Your College-Bound Kid’s Stuff

Kimberly Lankford, contributing editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, responded to a reader who wanted to know if her home insurance covered her son’s belongings in his dorm.

Lankford says your home policy should cover your child’s property on campus – and possibly off campus. Of course, it’s best to check with your insurance company.

Even if there is coverage, some insurers may cap what’s covered, typically at about 10 percent of the possessions coverage in your homeowner’s policy. So, for example, Lankford says that if you have a $200,000 policy on your home with 50 percent of that amount for contents, or $100,000, your kid’s coverage at college may be limited to $10,000.

If your child is living off campus in an apartment, consider renters’ insurance.

“Many college kids don’t realize how many valuable possessions they have -- say, a computer, a printer, a smart phone, an iPad and a TV, in addition to furniture and clothes,” Lankford writes. “The cost of replacing them can quickly add up, so being sure you have coverage is a smart idea.”

“Pre-nup or No Nup”

For last week’s Color of Money I asked: “Do you think couples need a prenuptial agreement?”

In a recent online discussion, Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax responded to a reader who wanted to know if she should sign a pre-nup given to her a month before the wedding.

Here are some of your responses:

“Like many things in life, ‘it depends,’” wrote Charlie Hartman of Canandiagua, N.Y. “If the couple is young and just starting out with no assets to speak of, then a prenup would seem to be the anticipation of divorce. In the case of an older couple, where one or both come into the marriage having assets, and perhaps having children from previous marriages, then some form of written understanding would seem to be important. In the case of the death of one of the partners, a prenup would solve a lot of problems for the heirs.”

Nicole Carnevale of Cranston, R.I., believes prenup is just an all-around good idea. She wrote: “Unlike some, I don’t believe a prenup in any way degrades the sacred institution of marriage. If anything, I believe it strengthens a couple’s relationship, as it mitigates any fear, anxiety or worry about the inevitable thought of ‘what if’ this marriage doesn’t work out?’ Couples getting ready to tie the knot are smart to sign a prenup.”

“My wife and I got married at ages 41 and 47 respectively, so we both brought assets to the table,” wrote Mark Cassel of Collegeville, Pa. “Nonetheless, we did not have a pre-nup. We just celebrated our fifth anniversary and our love continues to grow. As the financial advisor and radio host Dave Ramsey suggests, for most people a pre-nup is setting up the opportunity to fail at marriage. We had no intentions of having failure enter our relationship. Our attitudes are focused on success so a pre-nup would have clouded that intention.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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