Sunday, 3 September 2017

Weekly Column: Back to School, Not Back in Debt

Back to school, not back in debt

Many parents will agree that once your children are of school age, it’s tempting to spend more on what they wear. It’s natural to want to look nice, and supporting particular brand names and styles may be a part of what makes you feel confident and happy.

When the price of oil tanked in 2015, though, many local families had to reconsider their wants versus their needs. We need to pay the mortgage and other loans, utilities, groceries and bills. But do we need brand name clothing, new furniture, the trendiest shoes and that warm vacation?

People in the area were faced with hard decisions. Many are facing uncertainty to this day. And yet.
And yet, when it comes to our kids, we often give in to the urge to treat them to one more movie. One more camping trip. One more trip to the mall. We do it because we love them, of course. We want them to know they’re special and we shower them with things and experiences so they remember a happy, nourished childhood. These are good things, all of them.

Sometimes, however, we need to remind ourselves that it isn’t the stuff or even the vacations that make the memories or enhance the childhood. It’s the little conversations we might have on a drive, or their pride at having helped on a project, or the way you patiently taught them a new skill. None of these things need cost much money. Particularly if you haven’t the money to spend.  

With that in mind, as you consider your back to school shopping this year, remember that the delight and anticipation you may feel on your child’s behalf is exclusive from what they actually need for school.

If they have a closet full of clothing, how much do they need to survive another school year?

Providing they haven’t outgrown everything they own, couldn’t you get by with just a new piece or two of clothing and watch kijiji, the second-hand stores and clearance racks for whatever else they want?

The same goes for electronics. Although there are back to school sales happening, you must first consider whether the product is mandatory. In most cases, the school provides any compulsory technology. If that’s the case, do you really need to spend hundreds of dollars on iPads, laptops and headphones? Or will what you already have suffice?

Remember, if you’re going into debt buying things that aren’t needed, you have no one to blame but yourself. The buck has to stop somewhere. has some suggestions on how to stick to your budget this year:

·         How much of your back to school list can already be found in your home? 
What can be reused from last year? 
Is there any reason not to reuse backpacks, water bottles and lunch kits? 
If you have supplies that you aren’t going to use and don’t want, donate them so another family can use them.

·         Identify how much you can realistically spend this year. Don’t forgo making essential payments in order to buy unnecessary back to school gear.

·         Put needs before wants. Your child might want new sneakers but need a winter coat. Don’t leave the rational thinking to your offspring. If you watch for sales you might get both, but put essentials first.

·         Never pay full price. If there’s something your child wants, teach them to wait for a sale. This may mean wearing last year’s jeans on the first day of school—a lesson in delayed gratification and hardly a life-threatening experience. What doesn’t kill them will make them stronger.

·         Use cash. If kids can literally watch the money disappearing, it will help them prioritize their own desires. No matter their age, children can learn that when the money runs out the spending must stop.

·         Buy in bulk with friends, if you’re certain they’ll pay their share. It’s tempting to split bulk quantities of notebooks and pens with another family, but you’re no further ahead if they stiff you for their half. Enter into these types of agreements only with trustworthy, like-minded folks that won’t leave you footing the bill.

The passing of the school year is as momentous and noteworthy as a birthday, and is becoming just as emotionally loaded. We want to give our kids the very best, from back to school, to birthday parties, to Christmas, and all the days in between. Having experienced the economic slowdown of the past few years, though, local parents must be selective on how they spend their hard-earned cash.

We’ve been in debt and faced uncertainty before. Don’t let a new school year break your resolve to stay on budget. Teaching kids to handle money responsibly is as important as anything they will learn at school.


  1. Such wisdom here. This was the first summer that my daughter had a job (she's 14) -- she worked part-time cleaning stalls on a horse farm -- and we made her responsible for all of her back-to-school shopping. That was an eye-opener for her!! To see how quickly her hard-earned cash was disappearing...well, she made very different decisions than she may have if Mom & Dad were funding her shopping. :) As a result, she's delighted with what she was able to buy, will take supremely great care of her clothes and realizes the boots and sneakers she wore last year are perfectly serviceable. Even more importantly, she's super-proud of herself for earning her own money and managing it herself.

    There's an IMMENSE pressure to buy All of The Things...any time we can arm our kids with the knowledge and foresight to avoid the spending trap is time well-spent. (pun not intended but happily received. ;)) xo

    1. Mel, yes! This!! This is exactly what I mean :) I'm so proud of your girl for getting it! When you've done your own labour and been given the chance to spent the earnings yourself, the learning is quick and real.

      Had you told her to save her wages and then given in on all of the things she wanted you to buy, it might have taken years for her to come 'round to this attitude with her money...namely, being economical and making it stretch. Wisdom! Yay! Great job, and thank you for sharing this story with us :)