Make getting ready for back to school lesson in math

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Ready or not, Labor Day is a few weeks away, which means so is another school year.

This time around, turn shopping for clothes, colored pencils and such for class into a chance to offer children and teens some tips about money management, bargain hunting and personal style.

Below are some conversation starters to try as you head to the mall with the budding academics in your life:

• Get kids involved early on.

Sure, surfing the Web for apparel and supplies once the kids are snuggled in bed sounds like a more serene approach to back-to-school shopping, but it's a missed opportunity to teach young ones about savvy shopping. Have a school supply list? Task children with seeing how many of the items they can find at home and what things they'll need to buy.

"That's a nice way to get them to think about reusing," says Deborah Gilboa, a clinical associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh medical school. She also is the author of a new book, "Get the Behavior You Want … Without Being the Parent You Hate!" which is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

Have them survey their closets to see what fits, what doesn't, what still looks good and what can be downgraded to play clothes or donated. Once clothes are categorized into these piles, talk with kids about their choices.

• Establish a budget.

Parents/guardians: Set a budget from the start — and let kids know it exists.

"Your savings needs should determine your spending," says Gene Natali Jr., co-author of "The Missing Semester," a financial guide geared toward inspiring young adult readers to take control of their financial futures. "We're surrounded by constant temptation, but you want to have a budget and you want that amount to be determined by your savings needs."

But don't feel pressured to set the same limits for each child, Gilboa says. Maybe one kid had a growth spurt and needs more clothes than another, for instance, or perhaps an older sibling needs a netbook for typing term papers.

Adults "don't have to justify that," she says.

• Distinguish wants from needs.

What commercials call "school essentials" oftentimes aren't must-haves. Map out before stepping foot in the store what are needs and what would be nice to have only if money is left over. If below budget, consider keeping the money instead of splurging on something extra, and talk to children and teens about strategies for saving money.

"Age is opportunity," Natali says, meaning that the sooner people start to save the more opportunities they'll have to provide for the future.

• Set parameters for personal style — and stick with them.

It's common for kids and adults to disagree about clothes.

"They are expressing individuality by pushing against their family and moving toward their peers," Gilboa says, especially for middle school and early high school-aged students. This is normal, she adds.

But rather than viewing this as rebellion, give them the chance to explore their style sense and tap into some trends with a few boundaries. For example, let them know they're free to pick out whatever looks they want, as long as they don't sport vulgar messages or images, are below a certain price and don't show too much skin. But let anything else that follows such guidelines be fair game — even if it's an outfit Mom or Dad doesn't understand.

• Share bargain-hunting skills.

Teach the thrill of finding fashions for reduced prices to any age. Younger kids can help clip coupons and give adults a stack to sort through. On the receipt, show them how much money was saved because of the coupons they found, Gilboa says. Similarly, ask adolescents to browse the Internet for potential deals.

• Reference shopping apps for assistance.

Further tap into children's investigating skills by having them help search for mobile apps that can lend a hand with shopping. A few apps to consider: Amazon Student (scan book barcodes from school lists to find bargain books), RetailMeNot (discover discounts for a range of items), Mint.com's money management feature (organize and track budgets and spending), Key Ring (create and share shopping lists among multiple mobile devices), and Kidizen (buy and sell gently used children's clothes).

• Think about shopping as a bonding experience.

Grabbing what is needed and getting back home quickly often is the goal for most families. But instead of trying to wrap things up at record speeds, treat the outing as a bonding experience. As children — particularly adolescents — pick out and try on clothes, use it as a chance to learn about their interests, trend tastes, and concerns about their body image and fitting into their school's social circles.

Back-to-school shopping is "not just looking for school clothes but mining for a little bit more information about our kids," Gilboa says.