Aug. 18, 2014 at 7:49 AM ET
The shopping spree may start months, weeks or maybe the day before the school year begins. Buying a dozen pencils and a few Trapper Keepers won't cut it for today's students. The back-to-school buying binge may include trendy new clothes, shoes, sneakers, in addition to hefty expenses for extracurricular activities. For older kids, a new laptop, tablet or mobile phone may now be essential. It all adds up fast! According to a recent survey by RetailMeNot and The Omnibus Company, parents spend nearly $660 a year on school-related costs for their family.
But spending on your kids can offer some practical lessons that you can use to teach about money. Only 17 states require students to take a personal finance course before they graduate from high school, according to the Council for Economic Education, so the responsibility of teaching kids how to manage, grow and protect their money often falls on parents. No matter how old your child is, here are three key lessons that you should teach them as they head back to school.
Wait before you buy.
Stress to your kids the value of delayed gratification. My daughter was 6 when she first started saving regularly in her piggy bank, but even a pre-schooler can learn to wait until they've saved enough money — in a special "savings" jar or piggy bank — to buy a toy or treat they want. Also show them how much they could save if they wait until an item goes on sale. You might explain to your child that you only have money to buy essential classroom supplies right now, but by December you'll have enough money to buy him a new laptop after the holidays when they are on sale.
Compare prices before you buy.
Shopping around before you buy is a great way to get the best deal and save money. I'm always comparison shopping — whether it’s for groceries or a new refrigerator — and often bring my kids along on the trip or show them the items that I am thinking of buying at online stores. And it’s rubbed off. Every Christmas, my son and daughter leave a "Wish List" of gifts they'd like from Santa in their stocking at the fireplace. Last year, my son added some extra information about the items on his "Wish List" for Christmas. He included the best price he found online for the tablet, videogames and sneakers and the name of the retailer. I also showed my 12-year-old son, who loves basketball, how to look on coupon websites to find discounts and deals at retailers for his favorite sneakers or sports gear. Now, he always tells me how much I'm "saving" if I buy him a discounted pair of shoes or clothing he's selected.
Remember, a credit card is like a loan.
Get out of the habit of pulling out plastic for every purchase. Using cash and figuring out the change is a terrific math lesson for younger kids. Explain to them using a credit card is like taking out a loan to make that purchase and you need to borrow wisely. You need to make sure you can afford that new pair of jeans or iPhone before you buy it. Let them know that credit cards can wreck finances. Rates on some store credit cards can top 20 percent, raising the price of that purchase significantly if you don't pay off the entire balance on time. For your high schooler who may want his or her own credit card, start off with a debit or prepaid card that you can monitor first. Once you co-sign for them to get a real credit card, remember that if your kid doesn't pay the bill, it will hurt your credit score, too.
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