Tis to the season to have your mailbox and inbox explode with back-to-school shopping flyers. In the past, I would head to the store and fill-up my cart like all the other parents. We would tap our feet impatiently as we waited in line to hand over our credit card and pay for our annual back-to-school shopping excursion. Last year, I decided to make some changes that have become a part of my yearly back-to-school survival plan.
Seems so obvious, but it’s a step most people skip, including me. But every year there are always leftover supplies, so take inventory of your school supplies before heading to the store. There is nothing wrong with stocking up on notepads, pens and pencils when they are on sale, but we tend to overestimate what our kids will use in a year, so there is a good chance you have leftover supplies from last year. Donate any school supplies that your kids have outgrown such as crayons, glue sticks or Hannah Montana folders.
Now it’s time to go through your children’s closets. This task may not be met with cheers of joy, but it is a great opportunity to show your kids first-hand the high cost of waste. Donate or sell clothes that no longer fit and identify (and donate) items that were purchased and never worn.
Talk to your kids about any unworn clothes without judgment. Roughly calculate how much money you spent on those unused items and discuss how the family could have used that money on other things—a pizza/movie night or a day at the amusement park. The goal isn’t to make your children feel bad or defensive, but to help them understand when money is spent on something that goes unused, then the family doesn’t have that money to use on something the family really wants. It becomes wasted money, which is something we want to avoid doing.
I want to raise children who are financially literate and comfortable handling money, so I decided to stop making unilateral decisions on how we spent our back-to-school budget and gave the girls a voice. While I retained veto power, the girls would have the opportunity to put together plan that satisfied both their needs and wants.
I started the conversation by helping my girls understand the difference between a want versus a need. Every child wants lots of things, but not every child needs everything they want. I don’t want the girls to feel bad for wanting things but to understand where they fit within their overall budget. The sooner your child understands this concept, the better. We then reviewed our list and I gave Lauren and Taylor their back-to-school budget.
Now it now becomes a balancing act of wants and needs. Ask your kids what is something they really want this year. Maybe it’s a pair of designer jeans or a special pair of shoes. Remove the cost of the item from your budget and have them figure out how to buy the other needed items with the remaining money. Is it doable? Or do they have to make some compromises? Perhaps, if they reuse last year’s backpack, buy some secondhand clothes and use store brand school supplies instead of notebooks with One Direction on them, they can free up some additional money. Or if your budget simply doesn’t allow for extras, talk to them about different ways they can earn money if there is something on their list they truly want.
To me, it was important to give the girls a chance to balance their wants and needs and to see if there was a way they could have both, with the knowledge that needs had to come first. This is what we should do as adults, and I want them to learn how to prioritize and compromise now.
Before you go shopping, give your kids one final challenge—to find the best prices for the things they want and need. Help them look for coupons and sales to stretch their budget.
Part of being a smart shopper and empowering good decisions is knowing when to make compromises. Last year, my daughter needed jeans and really wanted a pair of colored jeans. We saved over $40 by comparing prices at three different retailers. She got the jeans she needed and wanted and put $40 back into her budget for other purchases. Win-win.
While it would be faster and easier for me to do the back-to-school shopping by myself, this was such a great opportunity for the girls to get some hands-on experience from helping manage the budget, learning how to prioritize and when to compromise and making smart money decisions overall. These are the kind of skills that will take them from being Money Smart Kids to Money Smart Adults. And that’s one lesson I’m happy to teach them.
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