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Editorial: Don't lose out over school

Back-to-school time has arrived, and parents and students should be aware of both outward and inward dealings during this special season.

Shopping for those school needs is a big part of the season, with consumers looking for bargains. Advertisements and in-store promotions promise discounts at the checkout. But state consumer protection officials caution there can be a difference in the price shoppers think they're paying and the price they actually pay.

Careful scrutiny at the checkout counter is advised to be sure the charges are accurate. Wisconsin law requires stores to charge the lowest advertised price and refund any overcharge.

The Bureau of Consumer Protection encourages shoppers to take an active role in preventing price scanner errors. Some things consumers can do to be sure they're charged the right price are:

--Write down prices or special sales while shopping.

--Bring along store ads.

--Watch display screens as items are being scanned.

--Speak up if suspecting there has been an overcharge.

--Demand any appropriate refund while still in the store.

--Ask about the store's pricing error policy.

--Report pricing errors to state or local inspectors.

Last year, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) weights and measures inspectors tested more than 29,000 items for price accuracy in stores statewide. The total price scanner accuracy rate for 2010 was 96.8 percent. That percentage includes both overcharges and undercharges. In addition, the 2010 inspection results show consumers were either paying the advertised price or paying less than the advertised price 99.2 percent of the time. This is called the consumer confidence rate.

In addition to regularly checking price scanners for accuracy, state inspectors also make sure gas pumps and store scales are accurate, as well as package weights. Inspectors protect buyers and sellers in nearly all sales of goods.

Retailing is an outer influence, but school's opening can also impact students inwardly. The season can be very stressful, especially for first-timers.

Three steps parents can take to help smooth the transition for uneasy students have been recommended by Renaye Thornborrow, author of "Adventures in Wisdom," as follows:

--Step 1, Discuss and Manage Concerns. Give kids the opportunity to voice their fears about going back to school. Once they've shared their concerns, work with them to brainstorm solutions. For example, if a child is worried about how they will perform in math class, create a plan to review concepts before school starts or hire a tutor if extra help is needed. If a child is nervous about making friends at a new school, invite some kids over for a play-date who already attend the new school. Knowing that their concerns can be alleviated will empower kids to face change with more confidence.

--Step 2, Discuss and Visualize the Positive Aspects of the Change. Have kids visualize positive aspects of going back to school such as seeing old friends, learning new subjects and taking special field trips. Just like kids can use visualization to practice hitting a baseball, they can also use visualization to practice creating happiness and success in the classroom.

--Step 3, Celebrate and Honor the Change. Parents can schedule a fun event to mark the change. Honoring the change with a celebration will mentally prepare kids for the transition. Hosting a "back to school" party with friends, shopping for a special backpack or going out for a meaningful family dinner can prepare kids to embrace the new school year.