We often think of back to school as something that happens only once a year, starting the end of July and lasting through the first part of September. Many of us feel financially stressed during back to school, since it usually represents an increase in how much we spend. In some cases, back to school can be a budget buster.
Lots of people use credit as a stop-gap at this time of year. SimplePayday report a surge in payday loan applications during the September month. While other credit providers visibly ramp up promotions and advertising for the start of the school year.
This year, you have the opportunity to break the cycle as you participate in back to school buying for your children. Pay attention to your buying habits this back to school season and use the information to create a plan that can keep you from breaking your budget next year.
Track Your Back to School Spending:
First of all, it is a good idea to track your back to school spending. Add up how much you spend in various categories, including school supplies, clothing and extracurricular activities (activity fees can get quite expensive). This will give you something to work with as you plan for next year.
Once you know how much you spent, it’s time to begin preparing for next school year. If you end up spending £600 on back to school, you know that you can set aside £50 a month (600/12) to get ready for next year. Breaking it down and preparing for the costs a little at a time can make your back to school shopping more manageable next year. Put the money in a high yield savings account, and you have the potential to have a little bit more.
Looking Ahead to Increased Expenses:
It is also a good time to take stock of increased expenses as your child grows. If your child is involved in sports and/or music, the costs associated with back to school tend to rise each year.
Equipment, trips, and other expenses quickly start to add up. I was in three different bands, and participated in two different sports, for much of my high school career. The planning involved for paying for these extracurricular activities, on the part of my parents, as well as what I was responsible for, increased as I got older. That’s something to take into account as your child ages. If your child shows an interest in extracurriculars, you might find that going from the last year of middle school to the first year of school is quite a jump. Prepare for it by setting extra aside during the year so that it isn’t such a sudden strain on your finances.
Getting Your Child to Help:
There is nothing wrong with encouraging your child to help pay some of these expenses. While it may not be reasonable to expect your child to bear the cost of such activities entirely on his or her own, it can be a good learning experience to have him or her contribute some of the money to pay these expenses.
You might also need to require your child to prioritize his or her activities if it gets to be too much for your pocketbook or interferes with a part-time job or results in low grades. In the end, it’s important to teach your child the importance of balance, as well as letting him or her enjoy extra activities.
The budget can get a little out of control this time of year, especially if you let your kids dictate how much you spend. Pretty soon, the requests can get crazy, and you might find that you spent way more than you wanted to.
One way you can keep your own costs under control is to encourage your kids to help pay back to school expenses. There is no reason why kids can’t learn a valuable money lesson from this whole back to school experience.
Teaching Children about Priorities with Back to School Shopping:
Having your children help pay for their own back to school shopping doesn’t mean that they have to buy everything themselves. When I was growing up, my parents gave my siblings and me a limit for school clothing. Once we hit that limit, we were done; any other clothes we wanted had to be paid for with allowance money, or money from a job. I learned, pretty quickly, that if I bought classic clothing without designer labels, I end up with an entire wardrobe. My sister, on the other hand, thought it more important to have one or two designer items. She often had to use her “own” money to fill out the wardrobe.
We did something similar with my son. We told him we were willing to spend a certain amount on his shoes. If he wanted costlier shoes, he would have to pay the difference. After much deliberation, he decided he wanted to keep his money and use it for a video game.
This process teaches children to weigh their options and make better choices. It can also teach them value. If you pay for everything, without question, your kids learn to expect it — and they won’t learn to make sometimes hard decisions. We can’t always have everything all at once, and back to school shopping can help your child learn to make different decisions, and budget their money. And, if they have to use their own money, they might make smarter decisions that help them get more bang for their (or your) buck.
Other Back to School Costs:
You can do this with more than clothing. If there are basic school supplies to purchase, you can offer to buy the necessities, but make it clear that your children will need to pay the difference if they want something more. You can also institute rules for extracurricular activities. You might offer to pay the costs associated with one or two activities, but tell your kids they’re on their own for more. This can help your children learn to decide what’s really important to them.
My parents paid for basic costs, such as participation fees and required equipment. I was expected to pay travel related costs. So, for my swim team involvement, my mom paid the fees, and paid for me to do extra lap swimming at the pool. She also agreed to buy the team suit worn at competition. I, however, had to pay travel costs to go to out of town meets, and buy my own practice suit, since I didn’t want to wear my “leisure” suit to practice.
In the end, you need to decide what’s reasonable for you to pay, and what your kids can expect to pay. Then explain to them that they have to make choices that work for them — and the family budget.
How do you handle back to school shopping?