This is the time of year when many families begin to think about preparing for the new school year. Costs for new clothes and schools supplies can add up quickly. According to a recent survey, the average family spends about $603 for back-to-school supplies (per National Retail Federation survey 2011).

Strategic purchases can save money and also provide a chance to model for children how to use wise budget strategies all year through. Now is a good time to start planning.

First, involve children in making a list of what they already have and what they need. Help them prioritize the list in order of the items most required. Then draw up a budget.

Next, read through newspaper ads with your children and seek the best sales for clothes and supplies. You can also check online for deals. Then show children how to do comparison shopping for the best prices.

Because of the speed of children’s growth, it’s best to resist buying fad clothing, which can be expensive. Show children that they can buy more items if they buy fewer expensive pieces.

It’s important to make sure the clothes you buy fall within your school’s dress code. Basic, durable and adjustable clothing can stretch your dollars significantly.

Use every opportunity to impart “object lessons.” Your children might want those colorful notebooks with logos or images of their favorite heroes; but the plain notebooks may actually have more paper and be less expensive. While shopping with your children, compare prices, count the number of items and add up the bill. This will acquaint them with using math in their daily lives.

Of course, using slightly worn hand-me-downs can save a lot of money. Garage or yard sales are great sources for a vintage lunchbox or a nearly new calculator.

For some items, like shoes, it is important to pay the difference for good quality. Don’t look to the future for growing room. Buy shoes that are comfortable right away. It’s best to choose shoes with a stiff heel, flexible toe and rigid in the middle for support.

If your children need a computer, consider shopping at an outlet store where you can purchase a refurbished model. That can save you 50 to 60 percent from the retail price. If you are considering other high-tech tools, know your school’s rules first. Some cell phones, iPods, and MP3 players are banned from schools. If your children insist on buying more expensive items, consider having them put part of their allowance or paycheck toward the purchase, or have them eliminate a lower priority item from their list. This will teach them the value of budgeting. It could also cause children to lose interest in the item and forget how important it once seemed.

If you don’t need to buy supplies now, it’s best of all to wait. School supplies are often placed on clearance by mid-September.

Above all, stay within your budget. Using a credit card is good only if you know how you will pay it off. Otherwise, the interest rates and fees may cancel out any savings you made from finding sales and bargains.

Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools.