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Lean times are rich with life lessons

Bryan Hinnant, 36, is a youth minister at Christ United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg and a father of four. This year, his family will rely on free apparel from the church's clothing closet and the help of grandparents for their back-to-school needs. And rather than travel to school by car, they'll pedal bikes to save gas. He's not alone. "Things are tight. Everybody's struggling and on edge with their jobs," he said. With the troubled housing and stock markets, record job losses in the bay area, and soaring gas and food prices, this year it's the parents, not the kids, with the back-to-school blues. Dr. Ruth Peters, a Clearwater psychologist and a frequent contributor to NBC's Today show, advises parents not to seem glum if wallets are lighter these days. Instead, find that silver lining, she said, and share it with your children. "You can't get away from the truth, but there are some teachable moments," she said. "Rather than focus on the negative, focus on the quirky, weird and creative challenges this economy forces us into." For instance, instead of using the term "hand-me-downs," opt to "recycle" outfits. If you're shopping at thrift stores or garage sales, talk about "creating your own sense of style," she said. Be great hunters and gatherers when searching for bargains. Peruse the ads, plan a shopping route to save gas, and carpool with friends. "Make it a treasure hunt; make it fun," Peters said. Here are some money-saving suggestions that can also teach youngsters some of life's most valuable lessons:

Buy only what you need, reuse the rest

Go closet diving to see what may be left over from last year that's still of good use. Does your child really need another new calculator or a fifth ruler? Make two lists, one for what you can reuse and one for what you actually need to buy.

Establish a budget and let kids help buy items

Set limits based on your family's circumstances. Then let the kids shop for the best deals. Go for necessities first, then the wants. If they just can't live without those designer jeans or a Batman backpack, and it's not in the budget, let them use their own savings from allowances or part-time jobs to help.

Gather friends to start a back-to-school swap

Melanie Giles, 42, of Safety Harbor often exchanges clothing and other items with a circle of friends.

"Something may have only been worn once or twice when that child outgrew it and now it's perfect for someone else. It's much less wasteful that way," she said.

She also buys school supplies in bulk from office supply stores. She breaks up packs, saves some and gives some to teachers.

Don't overbuy so much as to overwhelm kids

Peters said she counseled one family that complained because their son didn't touch half of the new wardrobe they bought him.

"If you buy too much, kids can get overwhelmed," she said.

"Just get a couple of things for the beginning of the school year. Let them find out what others are wearing, then put them on a monthly clothing allowance to buy the things they like throughout the year."

Shop Sunday circulars and newspaper ads

Retailers are dishing out some great specials this time of year.

A recent glance through the Sunday paper found penny, nickel and dime school supplies for sale at Walgreens, Office Depot and Staples. Some items were even free after a rebate.

Wal-Mart advertised a Toshiba laptop computer for $398.

And Beall's — noting that Floridians are losing the customary sales tax holiday on school supplies and clothing — is offering an additional 10 percent discount today through Wednesday.

Try hitting clearance and sales racks first

Traci Noble, 45, of St. Petersburg has three children, 11 to 15 — one with "huge fashion concerns."

"We're much more conscious of what we're spending now than we were a year ago, so we'll be hitting the clearance and sale racks first," she said. "This way they can still get the cool stuff they love."

Shop online but also consider visiting stores

Amy Shanler, spokeswoman for Staples, said buying online could net some good deals, but sometimes it pays to go to the stores. "Sometimes children need to express themselves with things like notebooks or backpacks. They may want to pick them up, touch them, and see how durable they are or what the colors really look like. That needs to be done in person."

Purchase well-made clothes that will last longer

Paula Speights says her four children attend a public school in Tampa that requires school uniforms. The 29-year-old mom says she shops the school sales and buys the deeply discounted, well-made older styles that still have a lot of wear. She uses Dryel cleaning cloths to steam clean them, or washes them in cold water and dries them only until damp.

"They last much longer that way," Speights said.

Pack your food and skip cafeteria's lunch

Break the habit of buying the cafeteria lunch, Peters suggests.

"Your child will spend less time standing in line, and it will cost half as much," she said.

Seek alternative forms of transportation

Rethink that car drive and consider options like walking, bike riding, carpooling or taking a bus. You save gas, of course, and maybe a long wait in the parking lot.

Take advantage of all resources offered

Most schools and public libraries have computers, books and DVDs available, so use those if you don't have your own.

Help others if you can by donating clothes

Consider donating clothing, shoes or money to Clothes to Kids (www.clothestokids.org) or drop off new school supplies at any Staples store (www.dosomething.org/ dosomething101#01).

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

Lean times are rich with life lessons 08/02/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 2, 2008 11:09pm]

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