"As with many, our family is on a really tight budget this year, but we need to get our children ready for the new school year. Any tips you may have on cutting costs would be great."

This can be a very exciting time. It also can be expensive. The National Retail Federation says the average family will spend $548 on back-to-school shopping for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

One of the best ways to enjoy the shopping experience without breaking the bank is to set a budget and stick to it. Here are some steps to set a budget and still send your children to school with the items they need:
Involve the entire family in the budget process. If you expect everyone to meet the budget, everyone needs to help set it. It's a great way to help them learn about money and develop good spending habits. Set a spending limit for each child. Decide what is actually needed and what it costs. Setting a limit for each child will help you control spending and stick to your budget. Write your budget down. Having the budget on paper helps measure your success and keeps you on task. Post it in a place for everyone to see and chart your progress.
Stick to your shopping list. Buy only what is needed and stick to your list. Don't be swayed by "great deals," the hype of back-to-school or the begging of your children. Shop for prices. It's easy to find sales, but bargains are hard to come by. The Internet has Web sites comparing prices. (For example, www.thebag.com provides information and discount coupons.) Online coupons and free shipping may get you a better deal. Including children in the shopping experience is a great way to teach finances. It's best to be honest about the family finances, but only provide information appropriate for their age, as different ages require different approaches.

While younger children are mostly looking for reassurance, teenagers likely are talking about the economy with friends and need a greater level of detail. Reassure them that w hile you may need to cut back, you'll still be able to provide for their needs. And urge them to help you find ways to save. It's a valuable lifelong tool.

Kim Blackley is a financial center manager and assistant vice president with Fifth Third Bank. She welcomes the opportunity to take your comments and questions. Please feel free to contact her at 614- 864-1870 or Kimberly.Blackley@53.com.