Back-to-School on a Budget

If your kids are heading back to school in September, you’re probably feeling just a tad stressed about the inevitable expenses that come with this season. To help you get through these next few weeks and all the back-to-school seasons to come, we shared our budgeting tips for parents over on Alberta Primetime. Take a look!

Full transcription:

First off, just how expensive is this time of year for families? Do we have any idea what parents typically spend?

Some latest industry statistics say that the average is about $500 ($474 was the actual number, I think). And that number included things like clothing, shoes, school books and backpacks. These are all typical expenditures parents have during this time of the year. And typically the older the child, the more money you’re going to spend. So if you have children in elementary school or junior high, you’ll be paying less than you would be if your kids were high school.


That makes sense. I have two and as they get older, it is definitely more and more. And as you mentioned, that’s about $500 x 2! There’s always so much excitement over new school supplies and clothes. Going the “new” route. How do keep that spending reigned in?

Do your budget. How much money do you have to allocate towards this season? And get your kids involved in this process. Financial literacy is a big thing and people are always reluctant to challenge their kids or talk to their kids about money, but I think this is an ideal time. If you’ve got younger kids, you could say something like this:

“Money doesn’t come out of that thing in the wall (the ATM machine). We actually have to work. And this is how many hours I have to put in to work to make this amount of money, which then goes towards your school supplies.”

It’s important to give your kids a little bit of perspective. With your older kids, another way to play that might be to say:

“Okay fine, here’s X amount of dollars. If you want to spend some of your own money and add to this amount, that’s fine. But you decide what you’d like to spend this money on.”

This will help them decide what they really want. They might think the only want a few things that are “labels” or hit the sales rack. So I think that’s it⏤do your budget, figure out what you can afford and then involve your kids in the process.


Planning plays a big part in this as well, doesn’t it?

We would love to see you start saving for next year’s school season right now. Put it in your annual expenses because back-to-school is often one of the most misunderstood parts of everybody’s budget. And I think that with annual vacations, Christmas, school supplies⏤those types of things⏤you want to put a certain amount of money away every year. So if you start saving now, you could have $500 per child come next year. And also, when you are doing your budget, don’t forget about school fees, field trips, bus passes and all those other things that do come up on a regular basis.


Do you have any other tips for parents?

Cash is a great way to keep within your spending limits. With credit cards you can be sucked into the “Oh, I can spend a little bit more” cycle. The thing we always see with people is that they typically put money on their card(s) and don’t pay it off. So by using cash, it allows you stay within your means. Give the cash to your older kids and let them use only that amount for their shopping.

There’s also always lots of sales going on. If you get stuck buying things at this time of year, you might be missing out on some sales. So if you can start back-to-school shopping during the year or at the end of school season⏤before we get into the pressure of needing these supplies within the next week or so⏤the more you can stretch those dollars. By looking for those bargains, the better off you’re going to be.


You mentioned it was so important for children to be involved from the get-go. Not only is it good for them to learn those skills from practice, but they’re also learning from you as a role model too, aren’t they?

Absolutely. It can sometimes be a difficult situation, as you can’t say one thing and then expect them to do something different. You need to show them how to live within their means. So when you’re at the grocery store or buying clothes for yourself, you will be role modelling for your kids. And that will translate to how the see and spend money. I had a colleague who was really good at this. She would give money to her kids and those kids knew how to stretch a dollar. They saw what she did over the course of the year and would emulate it. That’s what parenthood is all about⏤preparing your kids for adulthood. So walk the talk and they’ll pick it up.

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