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Shopping with kids needn’t hurt

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Question — I hate to go shopping with my kids. They always want to buy expensive brand-name clothing because "all the kids have it," and we end up fighting with each other in the store. Do everybody's kids act like that?Answer — Everybody's kids may try acting like that at least once, but they'll quit once they know it isn't going to work.

Let me suggest a simple system for sparing your voice and saving money. First, set limits on what you're willing to buy. Second, stick within a budget. Third, teach your children to comparison shop. Fourth, give them a stake in their wardrobe.

This really works. I'm not a diehard bargain-hunter, but I do like to pay reasonable prices. When I recently went shopping for a summer wardrobe with my 15-year-old daughter, Claire, I had in mind a $200 budget.

Here's how our trip went: We started in Abercrombie & Fitch, where Claire had a $50 gift certificate from her grandparents that she had been saving since Christmas. She bought two tops, on sale for $19.90 each. She balked at paying $30 for shorts, even on sale, especially when I told her she'd have to pay the extra $20 out of her own money. She took the $10 remaining on her gift certificate in cash.

Then we headed to the Gap, where Claire, bless her heart, made straight for the sale rack. She got a twin set, tank top for $17, cardigan for $25 — not cheap but not out of line, and it looked nice (I even suggested she get the set in another color, but she decided to wait).

Next stop, Old Navy, where Claire chose a pair of shorts for $14.50 (less than half the price of the Abercrombie shorts), a couple of matching tank tops (on special for $5 each), and a sundress on sale for $19.99.

We ended up at Sears, my personal favorite because the store is convenient to our house, the kids' clothing is stylish and reasonably priced, and there's always a sale.

Sure enough, we found, among other things, two T-shirts on sale for $8.40 each, and a floral print skirt for $18.

When I later added up all the purchases I had paid for, they came to just about $200 on the nose. Claire liked her name-brand Abercrombie tops, but she was even more pleased that she had been able to get so many additional items by shopping at other, less expensive, stores.

"This should last me for two summers," she said — so I can even amortize the cost.

Have a question about kids and finances for Dr. Tightwad? Write to Dr. T at 1729 H St., N.W., Washington, DC 20006. Or send the good doctor an e-mail message (and any other questions for this column) to jbodnar@kiplinger.com.