Back to School

Back-to-School Shopping Teachable Money Moments

Back To School Shopping Teachable Money Moments | www.TheHeavyPurse.comLauren and Taylor are seasoned vets of managing their back-to-school budgets, and the conversations we have while the girls figure out their game plan are fantastic. Even though the stores are crowded and chaotic, please take advantage of these teachable money moments while you’re stocking up on notebooks and new clothes.

3 Important Back-to-School Shopping Money Lessons

Whether your kids are young or old, these are timeless lessons that every child needs to to learn. And don’t forget to repeat them frequently to help them take hold.

Why Going Over Budget Matters

Kids don’t innately understand why budgets matter or why spending more than you have budgeted for should be avoided. And it is this mindset that carries forward into adulthood and causes so many problems later.

Whether or not you have your kids manage their back-to-school budget (which I strongly recommend you do), they need to be aware there is a budget. Don’t hide the number but share it with them, and as you shop, keep a running tally out loud.

When you hit the limit, tell them and stop shopping. Explain why you cannot run to the ATM and get more money, which they will most likely suggest you do. Money is finite. We all earn so much per year. Based upon your bills, goals and other priorities, you determined how much you could comfortably spend on back-to-school supplies without creating debt. If you go over that amount, you have to take money from another area, such as your vacation, entertainment or dining out fund. There are consequences to spending more money than planned. Money does not magically replenish itself.

The Art of Compromise and Establishing Priorities

Now that your children understand why we budget and avoid spending more than intended, it’s time to get those creative juices flowing. Review the items in your cart again and determine what items are wants and needs. Separate the needs and take a closer look at the wants.

Are there things you want more or is there a cheaper option available? Your kids many initially balk at the idea of swapping out their name-brand school supplies for generic or store-brands. Now show them how much money you could add back to the budget if you went with cheaper options. They may suddenly decide that store-brand school supplies will more than suffice. They are learning the art of compromise.

Focus on What You Want, Not Playing Keep Up

Two years ago, Lauren budgeted for a pair of shoes that all her friends had. The problem was Lauren didn’t actually like the shoes. She just wanted to fit in with her friends, which is common and understandable. We all want to fit in.

The following year, the shoes went into our donation box after only being worn a few times. While I don’t like to waste money, this “mistake” gave us a few great teachable moments.

Money Spent Playing Keep Up, Means Less Money for the Things You Truly Want

Today, more than ever, there is intense pressure to keep up. People constantly compare themselves and don’t want to be left behind. Kids are no different and are probably more susceptible to peer pressure. So Lauren and I had a good conversation around the items she wasn’t able to buy that she really liked because she spent money on something that she never really wanted. Playing keep up also has a price.

Friends Like You, Not The Things You Have or Wear

We then talked about how none of her friends stopped liking her because she never wore the shoes they had. They didn’t even notice. Your real friends like you for who you are; they don’t care whether or not you wear the same shoes as them.

At the same time, there is nothing wrong if your kids want a specific pair of shoes or jeans. This is normal. What you want to stress is that they should want those items for THEMSELVES, not to impress others or make their friends happy. If their desired items doesn’t fit your budget, then help them find ways to earn the money to buy it themselves. If it really means that much to them, they will be willing to earn the money for it.

But Don’t Dismiss Their Feelings Either

Reality Check: It’s true real friends don’t care about the things we wear or have. But let’s not kid ourselves either: sometimes it does matter. Being a kid, especially the older they get, the tougher it can be. Kids can be ostracized for not having the “right” clothes, etc. Again, I don’t suggest you create debt to buy the “in” things for them, but don’t dismiss the importance either. If your child expresses concern over this, talk it through. You may discover:

  1. Their friendships are evolving. Sometimes our childhood friends remain the same. Other times we outgrow each other or friends change and move on. This can be really hard, especially if your child feels like they are being left behind.
  2. They are being bullied. It’s unlikely the “right” clothes would make a difference, but your child may feel that way and be pressing you to upgrade their wardrobe.

Listen to your children and read between the lines. Get them to open up to you and you may discover it has nothing to do with clothes or having the latest gadgets. They may need your support, guidance and potentially your intervention.

If the above is not an issue, then revert back to having them earn the money for those items if they don’t fit your budget.

Financially Confident Kids Don’t Just Happen. They Are Taught by You.

I can’t pretend that I love the craziness of back-to-school shopping, but I do love having these conversations with the girls. Every year they impress me with how much they understand and the smart choices they make with their money. The occasional mistake still happens, but every time they make one, they also learn a valuable lesson, which is just one of the many reasons why we do this every year.

For more help and tips, see my series on Back-to-School Shopping:


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August 11, 2014  •  38 Comments  •  Back to School

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  1. Monday, August 11th, 2014
    Did you listen to Dave Ramsey last week?! He had is daughter, Rachel Cruz, on the show and she talked about "teachable money moments for back to school". Between Rachel and your blog, I think I am so much more prepared to talk to kids about money in a way I never had before. I think it'll be awesome for when I have kids down the road. Thanks for helping to educate me in this area, Shannon!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      No, I didn't catch his show but great minds think a like! :) I'm glad to be a part of helping you feel prepared to talk to your future kids about money. And I know you'll be a great Mom some day, Natalie!
  2. Monday, August 11th, 2014
    I love any moments that we get to make teachable money moments for our kids and back to school shopping offers tons of them. We recently went through the supply list with Will and determined that he had a number of the supplies already on-hand and could re-use for the next grade. Fortunately, he doesn't need to have the newest of everything and it was an easy teaching moment. We are fortunate that he is like a typical guy and really doesn't care much about clothes and what he wears. In fact, I typically have to force new clothes on him. He does like new shoes, though, and we always buy one pair for the beginning of school, and is he likes more styles then he knows that he has to pay for anything beyond that.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      Boys are definitely easier when it comes to clothes, especially when they are young. I heard they do get a bit fussier when they get older. With two girls, I expect that they will eventually get more particular about what they wear. Now as long as they like it, that what's matters most. I find the girls are much more willing to reuse school supplies when they realize how that can stretch their budget further. Suddenly it doesn't seem like such a bad thing!
  3. Monday, August 11th, 2014
    You continue to give such great advice about how to teach your kids about being responsible with money and spending. I certainly wish I had had parenting like yours!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      Awwww… Thanks Brad. I appreciate your kind words and hope parents are implementing my tips with their own kids. It really does make a difference.
  4. Monday, August 11th, 2014
    Great tips, especially the one about letting them help with managing the back to school budget. It's important to let them get some "hands-on" experience with budgeting.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      Absolutely, Kayla. One easy mistake we make is not letting our kids flex their decision-making muscles. It is easier to decide ourselves, but they learn by doing and even making mistakes.
  5. Monday, August 11th, 2014
    Great learning lessons Shannon, especially that people like you, and not what you wear or own. If someone is friends with you because of a material possession, they aren't your friend. I think kids and adults both sometimes get lost in that one.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      They and we do, unfortunately. There is so much emphasis on material possessions and the clothes people wear or the things they have don't make them good or bad.
  6. Monday, August 11th, 2014
    I am not looking forward to the day when my daughter understands brands. I don't think the area we live in is as fashion conscious as some place, but I think all kids go through that. I love your idea about letting the kids make their own shopping budget. That way, you aren't the one saying no.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      The girls are starting to become more aware of brands but they are still at the stage, thankfully, where cute clothes matters more than brand. But I think kids do eventually go through that stage to some extent. Letting kids manage their budget really removes you from being the "bad" guy and helps them not feel deprived because they are choosing how to use their money.
  7. Monday, August 11th, 2014
    Our teachable moment this year was that some of the kids didn't get new book bags, lunchboxes and a few other supplies because the ones from the end of last year were still fine. They got it too without putting up any fuss which was nice to see.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      Fantastic! I know we used to automatically replace those items too, but we double-check if they really need replacing. Often times they don't. Glad to hear the kids didn't put up much of a fuss about it either!
  8. Monday, August 11th, 2014
    Hi Shannon,

    I remember having discussions with the kids about the back to school budget. Marisa was always the one who just had to have the latest and trendiest stuff. I think she understood what was going on but she was testing the waters :).

    Thank goodness all she needs now is a binder with dividers and composition notebooks. Definitely a huge savings now :).

    Great advice as usual lady! Have a great new week!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      I'm sure my girls will eventually test the waters too and see if they can nudge me into increasing their budget, especially when they hit the teen years. And yes, a binder and few notebooks - would be heaven! Have a great week, Corina!
  9. Monday, August 11th, 2014
    Great tips!! I always loved back to school shopping. The first day of school was always my favorite!!! #nerd
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      LOL! I must be a #nerd too because the first day of school was always so much fun. And in just a few years, you'll be shopping for school supplies!
  10. Monday, August 11th, 2014
    It seems like back to school shopping is a big balancing act. On the one hand kids are more confident when they have the clothes and things that they think are cool. On the other hand it can be a real teachable moment as far as budgeting, prioritizing, placing value on things, etc. I'm afraid when I have kids I'll spoil them : (
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      It is a HUGE balancing act. Kids do feel more confident when they have things they like, but at the same times, we don't want to set the example that it's okay to go into debt to be cool. We try to balance this by having the girls identify the one thing they must-have and trying to work the budget around it. Every parent worries about spoiling their kids and that is a whole different balancing act!
  11. Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
    My daughter is years away from these moments, but I do agree; we can teach our kids to be more responsible with their money and back to school shopping is clearly a good one
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
      She will be starting school before you know it! Back to school shopping is definitely a great place to start talking to kids about money. And I'm sure you'll be ready to these conversations in about 5 years. :)
  12. Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
    My daughter learned a great lesson about those multi-subject binders. They are supposed to have one to carry all their papers around in one thing. Last year she went for the fancy pink one with designs and all kinds of pockets and gadgets. She learned that it didn't expand as much as she needed it to be, and asked to get something different this year (the fancy one from last year ripped apart by the end of the year). She described what one of her friends had - basically it was an expandable file folder. We picked one up for about $7 - she was thrilled to pieces.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, August 14th, 2014
      Love it, Travis! It's easy to get caught up in the looks and appeal of something, rather than how practical or sturdy it is. Glad she learned a valuable lesson!
  13. Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
    Great thoughts as always Shannon! Both my wife and I were raised basically getting whatever we wanted for back to school items which just ended up teaching us both the wrong lessons. Personally speaking, I know it just came down to me trying to get what I wanted with little knowledge about prioritizing or following to some sort of budget. It can be such a balancing act, but it is a great teachable opportunity when you involve the kiddos.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, August 14th, 2014
      Many of us were raised that way and in some ways, it was a different time. It was the one-time of year where we got new stuff. :) Of course, the problem is now days we spend a small fortune on back-to-school and year-round. It is a balancing act and there are lots of teachable moments for our kids (and us) too.
  14. Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
    Wonderful post as always!

    Lydia asked me if we could go on vacation again soon the other day (she doesn't know about the cruise- it's a surprise.) I said I wasn't sure. She said, "Well, do we have enough money?"
    I said, "yes, BUT we need to pay for other things too though, so we'll see."

    I love that she understands that things cost money and that everything isn't free!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, August 14th, 2014
      She is going to be thrilled with her surprise cruise (who wouldn't be!), and I love that she knows that vacations cost money. It's not let's just go, but can we afford to go. Such an important lesson for her to learn and it's fantastic she's connecting the dots at her age. Love it!
  15. Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
    It's so great that Lauren and Taylor are seasoned vets when it comes to budgeting from their back to school gear to their parties! I definitely remember growing up and "needing" to wear the right clothes in order to fit in despite not liking them, only to look at those pictures now and laugh because they were so horrendous looking. That's great that Lauren caught on quickly with the shoes example at such a young age. I hope Lauren and Taylor have a wonderful academic year ahead! :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, August 14th, 2014
      They really are getting so good at managing their budgets, which makes me very happy! I didn't want them to fear or hate them as so many people do. I really do believe budgets give us freedom and that's how I'm teaching the girls to view them too. Oh yes, I think everyone has that item they "needed" back in high school and look back now, wondering what were they thinking. Or mall hair. Yikes! :) The shoes were a great lesson and we had such a good conversation around them. I'll share your well-wishes with Lauren and Taylor! :)
  16. Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
    Don't you just wish schools taught personal finance? Or even colleges? That'd really be a teachable moment... sorry for the bad joke...

    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, August 14th, 2014
      LOL! Yes, I definitely wish personal finance was a core part of our educational system. Hopefully some day, but even then parents still need to take advantage of these kinds of teachable moments.
  17. Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
    It's almost like my post but it's with kids trying to fit in. I guess we are all just "kids" no matter what our real age says and want to belong. I agree that things are not inherent to your kids and can only be learned by you teaching them. You're such a great mom!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, August 14th, 2014
      We are on the same wave-length again, Tonya! :) We do want to belong and it's finding that place we can be comfortable in our skin, which isn't always easy to do whether your a child or an adult. And thank you for your kind words! I appreciate them!
  18. Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
    These are such awesome lessons. From my experience, unfortunately the right clothes or shoes do go a long way to stop the bullying. But I don't think that's the greatest lesson for kids to take away, even if it is sometimes true. Self worth has to go beyond a brand name tag, and that is such a teachable moment, like you said.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, August 14th, 2014
      It's such a tough situation and I don't think there is an easy or one-size fits all answer. It's why it's so important to not dismiss your kid's desire for name-brand or designer cloths and talk to kids to see if something deeper is going on. And most importantly - do what's best for them.
  19. Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
    What great tips Shannon! I remember absolutely loving back to school shopping. I loved buying new notebooks and folders. I remember packing my backpack the night before and being so pumped for school to start. I miss school now : )
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, August 14th, 2014
      I remember doing those same things, Liz. It was so much fun picking out my first day of school outfit and sharpening fresh pencils. Great memories!
  • Meet Shannon

    "As a Certified Financial Planner, it is my passion to help individuals and families build a healthy relationship with money. I look forward to helping you raise financially confident kids.” - Shannon Ryan