We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: Holiday Shopping on a Tight Budget

holiday shopping on a budget

There's still time to get creative when holiday shopping on a budget. ©Kym McLeod /stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

I’m already thinking (and fretting) about Christmas shopping for the kids because our budget is tighter than ever this year.

My husband’s been out of work since the summer, so we’re just getting by with the basics. Still, I can’t imagine not being able to make the holidays special for our kids (ages 3, 4 and 7).

Obviously, there will be fewer presents under the tree this year, but I still want all three of them to have a memorable Christmas and at least get some of what is on their wish lists.

Any tips on how to do that on a budget?

–Christmas on a Shoestring

Suzanne: Seeing how far we can stretch a dollar is almost a prerequisite for parenting in this economy, so where Amanda and I leave off, I’m sure our readers will pick up with tips of their own.

For starters, I’ve found that a lot of planning goes a long way. I can say from experience that last minute shopping is what really does me (and my budget) in. This year, I took about ten minutes to brainstorm one day and jot down some ideas and how much each item would cost. I have my target range, and as I’ve been spotting sales and finding coupon matches for additional savings, I’ve been pouncing on the opportunity to cross another thing off the list.

My latest find is the Dora motorized toothbrush I scored as a stocking stuffer for my daughter (while she was sitting in the shopping cart in front of me) when it was on sale and before my coupon expired next week. And even though it’s just a toothbrush, it’s something she’s been wanting and will be excited to get — even though it’s a run-of-the-mill item I would have to buy for her anyway. And that can be another strategy that might work for you. If there’s an outfit or shoes your child really, really wants, maybe you can justify it as a Christmas gift and something that meets a basic need at the same time. This also works with gifts like “A Day with Mom” coupon where each child is promised a special day just with you doing their favorite thing (riding go-karts, ice skating or going to the movies — which means that it does triple duty, first as a Christmas present that doesn’t have to be paid for upfront, secondly as a special treat to look forward to over the winter, and also as a chance to do something that might otherwise not be in the budget).

Another favorite holiday shopping strategy I’ve been on top of this year (and again it requires some advance planning to accumulate items over time) is taking all of the $10 cash coupons that come in the mail from stores like Kohl’s and Bobs, and finding gift items in those stores — basically for free. I love crossing something off my list and writing a budget-friendly $1.97 price tag next to it. Just sign up for e-mails at any of those store’s web sites, and like the Facebook fan pages of shops on your hit list so that you can get deluged with special e-mail sales, coupons, and online codes that you can apply strategically as the holidays approach.

Of course, there’s more to life than shopping. So budget or no budget, the most important thing we can teach our children is the real meaning of the holidays we celebrate. Try to take some time in the weeks leading up to Christmas (or even on the holiday itself if you want to fill the time with something meaningful rather than focusing on what is or isn’t under the tree) and go with the family to a Ronald McDonald House or community center where you can all brighten the day of people who would want nothing more than to feel a little holiday spirit themselves. Have the kids bring a holiday book and read it to younger children or seniors. It might just be the most memorable holiday tradition of all.

Amanda: Suzanne’s got some great tips, some I already employ and some I’m going to have to start doing. Toothbrushes for everyone!

My big thing about shopping, aside from scouring the sales and using coupons is to see where I can get money back. It’s not a lot but it goes a long way, especially during the holiday time when I’m spending more than I normally would (even if it’s a little more). So whenever I use a credit card, I make sure it’s one that gives me cash back in some form. I always shop through sites like Upromise and ebates that give money back on every purchase (the former deposits the money in a 529 account for your kids, the latter sends you a check every quarter).

Keep track of what you spend too. If you shell out $19.99 for product A at store B and then a week later it’s $5 less, head over to their customer service desk and see if they’ll give you an adjustment. And don’t be afraid to ask if a store will honor competitors coupons and prices too.

Many stores now are offering layaway, a program that lets you pay off an item upfront for a small charge — usually around $5. If your child wants a toy that costs $30 and you just don’t have that to spend right now, you can give the store $6 a week for about a month — a lot easier on your weekly budget.

Good luck! I hope the new year brings you happiness and prosperity!

*****************

What are your best tips for holiday shopping on a budget? We’d love to hear your advice, and if there’s an area where you could use double the help, let us know at advice@wearebothright.com.

Choosing to Make Things Work as a Working Mom

child on laptop

Motherhood is a never-ending menu of choices. ©Patricia Dekker /stock.xchng

Looking back, I never had that defining moment when I had to choose whether or not I would return to work after my children were born. I just kept working because it made sense for our family.

It was more a matter of choosing how I was going to make it work.

And for many, that’s about all there is to choose. In the most recent issue of Working Mother magazine, mothers shared their feelings around their choices and what they are seeking as far as work-life balance in What Moms Choose: The Working Mother Report, a study conducted by the Working Mother Research Institute. (And these weren’t just working mothers who participated in the study. It includes moms who are staying at home, others who off-ramped and on-ramped, and some who are blending their days as work-at-home moms, like Amanda.)

Basically all moms struggle with their choices, no matter which path they are taking or how they are going about it. We either feel like we’re not using our degrees to the fullest potential if we’ve scaled back or opted out of the workforce, or we feel like we’re not keeping up with the housework or giving the children our full attention if we’re not home all day.

It’s time that we all went a little easier on each other and ourselves. I try to remind myself when I get into a funk that my kids are the only ones I let be my judge when it comes to how good or bad of a job I am doing. (The rest of the time, when I’m not feeling so zen, you can find me whimpering to my husband about how exhausted I am.)

It still really irks me though when a fellow mom feels the need to tell me (nine years into my career as a working mom) that there’s no way you can do both, that it never makes sense financially and that no way would she have a stranger watching her children. I almost never get into it, but I do wonder how you can tell someone who’s already doing something that it’s impossible.

Once we get past all these hang-ups, the news is that we’re full of ideas about how to create a workforce culture that supports real work-life balance. Not the stuff that companies say they do, but the mindset of managers who understand that everyone needs some flexibility in life and work.

You don’t have to be a mom (or a dad) with a newborn at home to crave flexible work options. Most anyone has obligations outside work, and it makes sense to be able to flex and bend to meet those needs — just as we’re expected to when a business need comes up.

That’s the type of manager I am. If the work gets done, I don’t care if you did it at midnight or six o’clock in the morning. You could have brainstormed the idea on your commute into work or spent the entire last week banging out ideas on your keyboard.

Still, even with the best manager and most progressive company policies, the reality is that there’s no situation which is perfect every day of the week. (Except maybe getting to stay home while receiving a check in the mail for doing nothing in return, but I haven’t come across that want ad yet.)

Inevitably, there’s going to be some degree of worry about finding and maintaining the best arrangement for child care. There are days when none of the pieces seem to fit together. Or you feel guilty for pushing your kids too hard because there’s a tight schedule to keep. Or you feel like you’re pushing your luck at work (no matter how flexible they may be), because there are endless family obligations to be met.

With choice comes compromise. And in my case, even when you don’t have a choice, you have to compromise.

So we need to learn to accept.

Delegate.

Let go.

And then we can choose to be happy moms, meeting our challenges — whatever they may be and whenever they may change.

How have you learned to live with your choices? Amanda thinks I’ve perfected my role, but the truth is that I have just learned to be OK with winging it. What’s imbalanced one day seems to even out the next. And so it goes…

Happy with My Choice to Be a Work-From-Home Mom

©hortongrou/stock.xchng

I used to commute to work via train every day. Now my pace is a bit slower. ©hortongrou/stock.xchng

When you are insecure about something, it’s always nice when you find out that there are other people worried about the same things.

I’ve been a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom for eleven years. You’d think by now I’d be confident about my station in life. Not even close. Because I think I’ll have it all under control — I will have met all my deadlines, I will have changed the sheets on the bed and prepare a decent meal (plus dessert) — and then something (somethings) will reel me back into earth (the story will change, the toddler will spill something on the bed, the stove won’t work and the soufflé will collapse) and I’ll go back to being convinced that sometime soon everyone will see me for the fraud I am — a woman with a dirty house and unkempt kids who can’t cook, nor diagram a sentence to save her life.

But as it turns out, I’m not alone. Not about the last part anyway (not that anyone would admit to it), but about feeling insecure. A recent study by Working Mother magazine reports that lots of moms — both working and stay-at-home — have some very real concerns about where they are in life and how to balance it all.

Most interesting to me? That nearly half of the over 3,700 moms polled (49 percent of working and 47 percent of stay-at-home) say they are their own toughest critics.

That’s a lot of intelligent, resourceful, supermoms doubting themselves. So I guess I’m in good company.

Interestingly enough, my decision to stay at home and not pursue a “high powered” career, is something I feel totally confident about. The only time I ever slightly wavered my choice to be a work-at-home mom came early on in my tenure. I was a new mom to a baby boy, working full-time from home, commuting to my office just once a week. The position directly above mine suddenly became free. It would have been a nice jump professionally (especially at my young age, 26), not to mention a huge salary bump.

It wasn’t a role I could do from home though, it was definitely an in-the-office job. Especially when you remember that it was over a decade ago when working from home was still an incredibly new concept (I was the first in my company to do it) and things that make telecommuting a natural, cost-saving measure like Wi-Fi and Skype were non-existent (I used a phone line to dial in to our computer network. Adorable!).

I quickly got over any pangs of regret I might have been feeling — being a work-at-home/stay-at-home mom suited me. In fact, I liked it so much that when my daughter was born two years later, I left that position as I was required to work 9 to 5 hours — difficult with a toddler and a newborn. Since then I’ve kept up a fairly decent freelance career with a nice mix of long-term and short-term writing and editing clients. And while sometimes I wish our financial situation was a little more stable, being able to stay at home with all three of my kids and watch them grow up and support them in every way is something I’m so happy I get the opportunity to do.

Even if I burn the chocolate chip cookies sometimes.

What “type” of mom are you? What do you question about yourself? Would you change any of your past decisions?

On days when I’m just happy I haven’t burned down the house, I think about Suzanne and how she really does it all. And I’m jealous. Because she always looks a lot less frantic than me when she does it.

After-School Jobs Are Worth More Than A Paycheck

Hopefully my kids will have it all together on the school front, so they can get a taste of what's to come when they head out into the working world. © Kriss Szkurlatowski /stock.xchng

Any day now, I should be ready to retire. Because if you count the years since I first started working at age 13 — as a library clerk (who wins the prize for nerdiest job ever?) — I’m just about there. Come to think of it, there were a few babysitting gigs before that, so maybe I’m closer than I realize. But the point is, I’ve been working for, well, forever.

Could that be the reason why I’ve been feeling burned out lately? Makes sense.

But do I wish that I had waited to enter the working world until I was an adult? No. The truth is that I probably wouldn’t be as marketable as I am today if it weren’t for these first jobs. Not to say that scooping ice cream and mopping floors at the pool club snack shack set me up for the career path I’m on now, but that’s where I learned everything I know about manual labor, looking busy, customer service and not being above any job — all things that have come up time and time again in my working life (oh, and at home too.)

So when I’m thinking ahead to whether or not my children should have after-school jobs while they are in high school, the answer is as definitive as punching a time clock. As long as there are no other issues to contend with (failing grades, living in the middle of a cornfield with no employers within 100 miles, etc.) my children will be pounding the pavement just as soon as we can call them teens.

I won’t expect them to log long hours or work throughout the entire school year. But I do want them to get a taste of what it is to find and hold a job way before they become entitled new graduates with zero working experience thinking they are owed $80,000 in their first job out of college.

Maybe they will learn how to answer a phone, deal with difficult people (other than their parents), and get through the tedium/delirium of checking car passes at a security booth a few hundred yards from a beautiful shoreline packed with lucky stiffs who have a day off. Because character building activities like these are the only way to define the random jobs available to kids.

Whatever it is that they do, even if they don’t realize it at the time, will be teaching them what it takes to earn their keep (not to mention why they better shore up on those basic skills in order to get the job that affords a few weeks vacation every year so that they too can take a paid day off to sit at the beach).

If they’re lucky, my employable children will actually bring home a paycheck in the process, which they would ever so carefully spend on things that warrant the time they put into earning them. (Are those $125 jeans worth it when you have to pour two weeks pay into them?)

Even if they weren’t pulling in minimum wage or anything at all, it would still be a good job in my book. My son already has a plan for his community service requirement in high school, and somehow I don’t think coaching the youth sports he loves now will be quite as painful as unclogging a frozen ice cream dispenser five minutes before closing — paid as it may be. That’s a good lesson to learn too.

Besides, if my children never have the experience of waiting tables, polishing the high school basketball court, hosing down floors in a pet store or filing charts, they won’t have those great stories we all love to tell about our first jobs. Like the time when their mom had to break up a fight between old ladies in the library, going for the same periodical…

Amanda says she’s not letting her children work while they’re in school. I respect her choice, but now who are my kids supposed to barter ice cream sundaes for deli sandwiches with?

It’s Not Their Place in a 9 to 5 World

©shho/stock.xchng

When my kids are in high school, their job will be to hit the books, nothing more. ©shho/stock.xchng

Remember high school? I do. I remember it being an awful lot of work. Every year I took a full course load, not to mention the after-school activities I participated in. From junior year on, I also worked at a local restaurant. I worked as a waitress mostly, but did other things too.

Until I turned 17, I worked no more than four hours a day, 20 hours a week and no later than 10 p.m. Once I turned 17, right before my senior year, the rules changed quite a bit. I could work longer shifts and more of them. Vacations from school didn’t mean vacations from work and Friday and Saturday nights were filled — not with dates or outings with my friends but with order slips and cash register receipts.

It was a good job (I stayed at it until I graduated from college) and I made a lot of money. Money that helped me purchase my first car and pay for college and the prom and buy whatever it was I needed. I learned responsibility and gained some independence. For the most part, working as a teen was a great experience for me.

Still, when it comes time for my kids to work, I’m not sure I’ll be so fast in signing their working papers. My son is only 11 now, so maybe I’ll feel differently in a few years, but I think I’d rather him focus on school while he’s in high school — his studies, his extra-curricular activities and his (sigh) social life. I may change my mind once I have to start footing his sure-to-be-expensive teen-years bills, but I think that our kids have to grow up so fast as it is, why not give them a little more time to just be young.

Having said that, I don’t want my kids spending their time playing video games or surfing the ‘net or doing whatever it is that will be popular five years from now. If they aren’t working they should be studying or playing sports or doing something goal-oriented. Down time is OK, but I do expect them to be productive in some way. I don’t think that will be a problem, they are totally overscheduled right now, I can’t imagine that will change much. And to me, that’s how the younger years should be spent.

Let me be clear, I am not against my kids working entirely. I would welcome any of them to get a summer job or take on some odds and ends, here and there — babysitting, snow shoveling, lawn mowing and the like — just nothing that requires a regular commitment, nothing that might take away from their most important responsibility — being a teenager.

What do you think? Did you work an after-school job? Do your kids? Will your kids?

Suzanne says as soon as her kids are old enough, they will enter the workforce. I know where I’m going when I want a scoop of ice cream!

Hey Jamie Oliver — do you need an intern?

Do your kids brown bag it? Or buy school lunches? ©Steve Zazeski /stock.xchng

I’m raising Jamie Oliver’s protégé — which means that on this first-day-of-school eve, we’re less concerned with loading supplies in the backpack or laying out the perfect outfit. We’re back to talking about grey chicken nuggets.

That’s right. Grey chicken nuggets. My soon-to-be-fourth grader’s kryptonite.

And if the new school’s cafeteria doesn’t pass his stringent inspection tomorrow, it will be home-packed lunches every day this year too. (Except I’m not waiting for the official verdict, considering he’s in the same district with the same food service vendor. I was already at the supermarket this afternoon stocking up on sandwich stuff and snacks.)

So for our family, the convenience of writing a check to fill a pre-paid meal account isn’t even an option. Either my husband or I pack a school lunch for L. every morning before work. It’s a part of the daily rush I could honestly do without, but it does make me feel better that he’s eating a healthier meal than the school’s processed mac-n-cheese, tater tots and ketchup that counts as a vegetable.

Oh, except for Wednesdays, which if the same menu holds from last year, is breakfast for lunch day. The pancakes and waffles have been deemed acceptable by my resident gourmet. So now I only have to come up with four creative ways to serve tuna, chicken, ham and peanut butter/banana sandwiches with fruit and a complex carb snack.

Extra work aside, it does strike me as kind of funny that he turned out this way. It’s not even that he’s an especially picky eater. He is just selective. And has a leaning toward finer foods. (I think I know where that comes from.)

Still I’m not the type of mom who calorie counts for her kids, or freaks when they ingest sugar. I do want them to eat healthy and I push that when I can, but I wouldn’t tackle you if you handed my child a fruit snack made of corn syrup. (I might just stow the rest of the pack away in my bag and not return them later).

So the fact that my son is interested in where his food comes from (and just where do grey chicken nuggets come from?) makes me proud. He’s taking charge of his own health — not because I haven’t — but because he understands how it factors into the bigger picture.

And there doesn’t seem to be any degree of peer pressure that is making him sway off course. I’ve asked him at various points during the year how many of his friends bring lunch and how many buy. There’s a different answer every time, but it seems that the majority buy school lunches most of the time.

And I’ve asked him if it bothers him to bring his lunch sack and sit at the table waiting for his friends on line in the cafeteria, or if any of them make fun of him for bringing lunch. His shoulder shrug says it all. He really doesn’t care.

As long as there’s fresh bread and something he can identify inside that aluminum foil, he’s happy.

How about your school-age child? Do you pack lunch, or do they buy lunch at school? Also, are there any superior school menus out there? I’d love to know.

************

School lunches are bought not packed in Amanda’s house.  Which makes me think that I might just have to check out their school menu, if we ever consider moving.

In Defense of School-bought Lunches

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I have enough faith in our school district to let them feed my children every day for lunch. Do you? ©dmgoodguy/stock.xchng

I don’t know what my children are eating for lunch today. As I write this (the first day of school here where we live) my kids are at their respective institutes of learnings, getting ready to enjoy their midday meal. They both opted to buy, despite us not yet having a calendar spelling out what the food choice for the day will be.

They like buying their lunch most days and that’s OK with me. Is it because our school district more progressive than most when it comes to healthy school lunches, offering organic, all-natural fare? Not really, although they try — serving grilled chicken Caesar salad, roasted chicken (or turkey), omelettes and even orzo salad on some days.  But don’t get me wrong, they serve up their fair share of chicken and pizza nuggets and nachos too.

I let my kids buy lunch because they want to (and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t), the price is right and it saves me a step in the morning. I have rules — they have to buy the lunch being offered or the alternative (generally a sandwich of some kind or a bagel with yogurt and a string cheese) and they have to promise to take and eat all the components of the meal that is being served — the entree itself, plus milk (flavored is acceptable) and the snack, which is generally fruit (sometimes canned, yes, but fresh most of the time).

Do they actually eat all of those things? I have no idea. But they tell me they buy them (and I believe them) and I feel like if this variety of food is on their tray it’s hard for them to throw it out. The ladies who work in the cafeteria (and see how much food is wasted every day) may scoff at my logic, but there it is. And according to research, I’m not too far off in my thinking that school lunches aren’t all bad — if a child is wise about his purchase.

According to the USDA, schools must “provide lunches that are consistent with the applicable recommendations of the most recent of the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans including: eat a variety of foods; choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits; choose a diet moderate in sugars and salt; and choose a diet with 30% or less of calories from fat and less than 10% of calories from saturated fat.  In addition, lunches must provide, on average over each school week, at least 1/3 of the daily Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C.”

Seems pretty reasonable and I think my district does a good job of following these guidelines while offering up things the students actually like to eat. Where kids get tripped up it seems, is when they buy lunch items a la carte — some pudding here, some ice cream there — and they don’t buy what the food service director has put together. (I don’t know how it is by you, but in our district, they do not monitor what the kids buy so it is conceivable that a child eats only dessert for lunch.)

Do I worry that my kids are eating things that aren’t as healthy as they should be when they buy their school lunch? I suppose a little, but honestly, I’m not necessarily always serving the highest-quality things either, frequently turning to boxes, cans and bags for our sustanence.  A poor excuse, I know, but it is what it is. My concern above all else is that they eat something. The school isn’t serving them bags of sugar or giving them some salt to lick, it’s a basic meal that covers most of the food groups.

All that and an education too? Works for me.

What about you? Do your kids buy lunch or bring? Which would you prefer they do?

Suzanne and her husband do such a great job of making lunch for their kids every day. Forget about my own offspring, I’m going to their house every day for my midday meal!

Mom “Banned for Life” From Supermarket

We had a lively debate on our Facebook page a couple of weeks ago after I confessed to not paying for a box of cookies that my toddler had pilfered out of our local grocery store.

I know what I did was wrong, and I also know that nothing justified my (in)actions. Once I realized he had taken the box (after the groceries were loaded into my van and he was buckled into his car seat), I should have just marched right back in there and paid for them, but at the time it was easy to explain away why I didn’t — he was tired and cranky, I was tired and cranky, I didn’t feel like waiting on line again, blah, blah, blah. The truth of the matter is, I was being lazy. I did however, go back in on another day and make things right.

I don’t blame my toddler in this case — he’s just two years old, and has no concept yet of paying for things, much less stealing them. The fault was mine and I take full responsibility. In the future, if it happens again, I’ll behave differently.

Still, that’s a small comfort after I read in the New York Post, the story of a Manhattan mom who has been banned for life from her local Fairway supermarket. Elissa Drassinower says she was stopped by security at the upscale store after she paid for her groceries. Apparently, Drassinower says she had been shopping with her stroller and her arms got tired from carrying all the goods she intended to purchase. She placed a half-gallon of milk and a six-pack of beer in the basket under her stroller and went about her browsing. The trouble started when she neglected to pay for the beverages.

“When I was checking out, my son, who was really cranky, started acting up, and I forgot to pay for the milk and the beer,” she told the Post. She was stopped outside the store by a guard who took her photo and had her signed some papers. If she enters the store again, she’ll be arrested for trespassing.

Drassinower says it was an honest mistake, telling the newspaper, “If I really meant to shoplift, why would I pay for the $15 brie and the cranberry Stilton only to steal $3.49 milk?”

Fairway stood by its decision in a statement issued by their corporate office. Drassinower was not arrested and the store did not press charges.

As someone who just went through something similar, my thought was that it was a totally innocent situation. Hey, things happen. We’re moms, we’re multi-taskers, sometimes we get distracted by our kids and sometimes we make mistakes.  I was really surprised by the number of commenters on the story who said she did it on purpose and the ban was completely justified.

Update: Just saw the footage of the security tape (don’t you love the Internet?) and now I’m reconsidering. Hmmm. It does look shady. So what do you think? Should this mom be banned or was the security team at the store overreacting? Have you (or your child) ever taken something from a store without paying for it?

Our Two Cents: Advice for a Mom Who Would Rather be a Fashion “Don’t”

©Thoursie/stock.xchng

Is back-to-school clothes shopping with your tween something you love or dread? ©Thoursie/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

I love my 12-year-old daughter and I love to shop, so you’d think that back-to-school clothes shopping with her would be something I look forward to every year. And it has been, until now.

Like most tween girls, my daughter, Anna, is very fashion-conscious.  It wasn’t always this way. While she liked to wear pretty things, her choices originated from what she wanted to wear, rather than what the latest styles are. I’m not saying she’s following the crowd, she’s still very independent, but she’s definitely aware of what’s “cool” and what isn’t.

One of my favorite parts of shopping is finding a good deal. I never pay full price, instead, happily bargain hunting. For me, it’s more important that the price is right, rather than the color. When we walk into stores at the mall and I see t-shirts for $50, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it, I don’t care if the latest celebrity of the moment is wearing it.

Anna is losing her patience with me and frankly, me with her. I want to encourage her to “be herself” but not at the expense (pun intended) of my wallet. Any advice?

– I Thought Project Runway Was About Restoring Airplanes

Amanda: First off, don’t let your daughter know you asked me for advice. Right now I’m wearing an Old Navy t-shirt, circa 1998, complete with faded graphics and holes. So there’s that.

I’m like you, a sales shopper. I tend to buy clothing off the sales rack in the off-season. For most of my family that isn’t a problem. My 10-year-old son doesn’t give too much thought to what he wears (as evidenced by his frequently mismatched ensembles) and the two-year-old is happy to wear the same shirt every day (seriously, he’s got an M&M tee that he would put on every day if I let him). My 8-year-old daughter on the other hand, is very aware of what she wears. She always has been. Up until now she makes do with what we find in the bargain bins, but I suspect as she gets older she’ll be wanting to choose pieces from the front of the store, rather than the rear.

Do you have a set budget for back-to-school clothing shopping? If not, make one. Once you have an allotment of dollars available, consider giving your daughter a portion of it to spend any way she chooses. She may quickly learn that a $100 pair of shoes isn’t quite the necessity she thought it was if it’s her money to spend, versus yours.

If she still goes through with buying a little bit of clothing with a lot of money, I say let it go. Make the best of what you have remaining in the budget — with her taking an active role. Involve her in your bargaining ways. Together, scour the circulars, inspect the Internet and hit the mall (outlet or otherwise). Find new places to search — thrift stores and consignment shops offer lots of fashionable garments at reasonable prices.

I think if you work together, you’ll both end up looking pretty!

Suzanne: Coming from a girl who spent her life in school uniforms and had exactly two “civilian” outfits (one for Saturday and one for Sunday), I’m feeling a little bad for your daughter. Not to say that you should buy her anything and everything she wants for her back-to-school wardrobe, but keep it fun and indulge her if only a little bit.

Which means you will have to nudge yourself past the Axe-soaked boy with a six pack and take a look around those teen stores where everything has a name. Set a budget, like Amanda suggests, and let Anna pick a top or two, or a pair of jeans, from these stores. Soon enough she will realize how far the money goes there versus your stores of choice.

And before you know it, she’ll realize that she can get away with choosing one impact piece and mixing it with a more budget-friendly basic. (No need to spend $45 on a tank top to put under another t-shirt).

Just remember, she’s only young once. So as long as you can stretch a little bit out of your comfort zone, there will be plenty of time for her to take a liking to bargain hunting (i.e after she gets her first job and moves out of your house).

Happy shopping!

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What do you think, should this mom appease her daughter and buy clothing outside of her price range, or is there a compromise to be made?

If you have a problem that needs two perspectives, send us an e-mail at advice@wearebothright.com.

Best Of: Money Saving Tips You Can Live With

Thinking outside the box for ways to save money in your family? Try these tips. © Svilen Milev/stock.xchng

So by now we all know that if we’re looking to trim our family budget we should cut out $4 lattes and become devotees of extreme couponing.

But how can you save money when 1. you don’t buy lattes and 2. you don’t quite have the extra 40 hours a week required to hunt down fifteen pallets of Diet Coke? For some cost-saving tips that you can live with, and which might actually make a difference to your family budget, read on:

A Penny Here, A Penny There

  • Think twice about that single portion of chicken cutlet and roasted corn from dinner last night. Before tossing it because it’s not enough to stretch for the next family meal, bring it to work for lunch (and save $5) or dice it up for the baby.
  • While we’re talking food, skip the $4.99 12-pack of snack-sized animal crackers that you usually buy to pack with your child’s lunch and divvy up a regular size box of cookies into sandwich bags for grab-and-go convenience.

Now We’re Making Progress

  • If you’ve already done away with spending $60 at the movies and decided that Netflix was more economical, you can do even better than that. Drop the monthly subscription and check out the free DVDs at your town’s library. Same goes with downloading books for your e-reader — most libraries now offer e-book downloads direct from their web sites. While you’re at it, set up a “book” exchange with your friends and swap books you already paid to download.
  • Say what you will about home hair coloring, but when you can snag a box of quality color (using a coupon of course) for $5, why spend $50 (or more) at a salon? Just keep it simple and stick to your natural color, and it’s really tough to mess up.

Big-Time Savings

  • Want to save a bundle (or at least 10%) on car insurance? Check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles web site to see if they offer an online safe driver course. The last time I took a course like that (pre-kids), it involved sitting in delirious boredom for six hours in a conference room with strangers. I haven’t been able to justify wasting a Saturday like that again since becoming a mom and I’ve been missing out on some hefty savings because of it. But when I read about the web-based course recently, I discovered that the state where I live gives you the same credit for point reduction and a good driver discount on insurance whether you take the course online or in person. It only costs about $30 and I love that I can log on from home whenever I have time (which for me is after the kids have gone to sleep) and take a few days to complete it. The best part? Next time my policy renews, I will have a little more money to spend having fun with the kids on a Saturday.

Spend to Save

  • Sounds like an oxymoron right? But there are a quite a few websites out there — Ebates and Upromise to name just two — that will give you money back any time you make a purchase. In the case of Ebates you’ll get a “big fat check” every few months; with Upromise, the money is deposited into a savings account or directly into your child’s 529 plan for future educational plans. Over the course of a decade, Amanda has socked away over $4,000 using Upromise, doing nothing more than shopping (through links at the site and with the Upromise MasterCard) — shopping she would have done anyway.

We would love to hear your tips and how you get creative with saving in your family. Join us on Facebook and Twitter as we swap more ideas with readers.