Back to School

Back-To-School Survival Plan in 4 Easy Steps

Back to School Shopping Survival Plan

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.

Step 1: Take Inventory

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.

Step 2: Budget and Plan

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.

Step 3: Let Your Kids Flex Their Decision-Making Muscles

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.

Step 4: Be a Smart Shopper

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.

An A+ in Back-to-School Shopping

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.


Images courtesy of

The Heavy Purse Store is now open! My new downloadable Money Club Workbooks are now on sale. Each workbook provides five targeted lessons to help you raise Financially Confident Kids. Please check them out in The Heavy Purse Store.

August 12, 2013  •  46 Comments  •  Back to School

Leave a Comment


  1. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    My daughter starts kindergarten next year...I can't believe it!
    I stocked up on a few things for next year already. It really makes me want to cry =/
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      It is a bittersweet moment. Wait until you have to drop them off at school her first day. A weird mix of pride, joy and sorrow. :D
  2. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    I love how you involve your kids in things like this. Like you say, it would be much easier to just handle it yourself, and with our lives always feeling busy I think that's the route that's often taken. But letting them make their own decisions helps them learn the consequences of their wants so much better. As you say, it's not bad to want something, but it's important to recognize how that want might affect your needs.
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      I think it is so critical to do so and an opportunity too many parents overlook. It's an easy way to teach your kids about money and instill some good money habits in them. Lauren's already managed several budgets this past year and by the time she's on her own (many, many years from now!) she'll be a pro. And once kids start handling money, they really do start to see the difference between wants and needs, which again, many adults sometimes lacks those abilities!
  3. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    Great tips! It's easy to buy back-to-school supplies again and again, without realizing your children might have half of the items already. And it's a great idea to get them involved early and teach them to make prudent financial decisions for themselves.
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      Overstocking on school supplies happens so easily and thankfully it's also an easy problem to fix. I have really enjoyed working with the girls on budgets. I want them to see that budgets can actually give you freedom and you can experience/have great things on a budget. You have to prioritize, which something we forget to do. We just want. And while I will always want things, somethings I want more than others and those are the things I should work towards.
  4. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    I like the idea of letting the kids have some say in the process. I know growing up I always wanted to make decisions, but wasn't always given the opportunity and just had to get the least expensive options.
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      I think it's important to give kids some say in the process. Sometimes kids how little understanding of how much things cost. So it can be a real eye-opening experience for them too.
  5. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    That's a great idea to bring the kids into the decision making Shannon! I think this is especially true with regards to helping them start to develop that want vs. need issue. When I was growing up it came down to what I wanted which can lead to a slippery slope.
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      Thanks, John! Making smart money decisions is a muscle we will use our entire lives so I want the girls to be fit and ready. It's great as a parent because it gives me a chance to see what really matters to them. And on the flip side, they appreciate the responsibility and take their time figuring out the best use of their budget, which I love!
  6. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    Great tips here, though for us it's more starting school survival planning as our little one starts in a few weeks time and man is there a lot to buy!
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      Thanks, Adam! It's an exciting time when they start for the first time. And a little bit sad too. You will certainly treasure those memories of shopping for their school supplies for the first time and helping them put on their backpack for the first day of school. :)
  7. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    Great spending tips Shannon! I really hope lower income families practice your tips this year.

    There seems to be a lot of pressure on parents these days to spend a lot of money this time of year on back to school items. There are ads everywhere starting as early as the end of June and the whole back to school shopping frenzy has really gotten out of hand, in my opinion.

    I feel bad for low income families that feel that their kids have to have all these advertised things such as a fancy backpack and oodles of supplies.

    When I went to school as a kid I used the same school supplies that I used the previous year, which kind of fits into your point of take inventory. And I wore the same clothes in September as I wore just a few months prior in the previous grade.
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      Back to school shopping is an important season for retailers and you can really tell it by all their big shiny flyers! There is a lot of pressure to have new things and the "right things". And in my mind, reuse what you can - clothes and supplies. There is no shame in that. Not spending money on things you don't need means that you can spend it on other things you want.
  8. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    I still love back to school sales, and I'm well beyond school age. :)
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      LOL! It definitely conjures up some great memories when you see the rows of colorful notebooks, folders and big boxes of crayons. :D
  9. Girl Meets Debt
    Monday, August 12th, 2013
    Great Tips Shannon! I remember back-to-school shopping was always one of my favorite end of summer events. My mom wasn't such a fan with 4 kids to back to school shop for haha. There's just something sooo fun about a new package of crayons!!! :)
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      Thanks, GMD! I remember the excitement of going to stores and picking out some new clothes. It was always so much fun! Seeing your new clothes in the closet and your backpack filled with your school supplies was always exciting, even if you were so-so on actually going back to school. LOL!
  10. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    Great post Shannon. Love the idea of letting kids come up with whether or not the can afford the fancy jeans or back-pack. Such a great way for them to see the value of a dollar if they have to start cutting costs on other things or find substitutes. Totally going to do this with my 11 year old this week.
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      Fantastic, Kyle! I'd love hear how your 11 year old does. It was a great experience with the girls and eye-opening for both them and me and I hope you have a similar experience. I really love how creative they were in trying to squeeze as many wants as possible while still getting the things they needed. And they were so excited every time they found a sale and could put a few extra dollars back in their budget. Great skills to learn so young!
  11. Corina Ramos
    Monday, August 12th, 2013
    I remember when I was a kid I had no say so on my budget. My mom said I had so much and not a penny more and it wasn't a lot let me tell you, LOL.

    Marisa and I went back-to-school shopping this weekend and she did great. I was proud of her. She looked at prices and thought about it and passed it up for an item on sale. I gave her a budget and she's managed to stay under allowing her to buy things she wants.

    Adrian on the other hand told me, "take me to the thrift store and give me money." I wanted to hug him sooo tight :). Needless to say I'm taking him shopping and I'm controlling the purchases LOL.

    Thanks for sharing these tips...loved them all! Have a great week Shannon :)!
    • Monday, August 12th, 2013
      I love it! Marisa and Adrian are becoming quite the money savvy kids and I love how differently they go about it. It's definitely important to recognize and honor the differences in our kids. Marisa knowing to take the time to make sure she got the things she wanted at the best price is exactly what we all need to do. And Adrian knowing that the thrift store was perfect fit for him is fantastic. You've got some great kids there, Corina!
  12. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    Great post Shannon! It's amazing how many supplies we find in our house from previous years of school. Scissors that can still be used...pens and pencils, pencil boxes, paper, glue, etc. Going back to school is incredible costly (especially with four in our house) so it's nice to save any little money we can.
    • Thursday, August 15th, 2013
      I hear you, Brian. We get in the habit of buying new supplies every year, only to discover we have a year's worth of school supplies already! It definitely can be a spendy time of year and I appreciate that Lauren and Taylor have become more mindful of those costs.
  13. Monday, August 12th, 2013
    That's a great idea to have your kids comparison shop - it teaches them to be resourceful as well as look at all the options available. I also hear you about waste - sometimes in our supply room, there's a lot of half-used pads or whatnot, and it's so wasteful. I end up using the "scraps" (as well as others), but I don't understand the logic behind wastefulness!
    • Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
      Absolutely, Anna! I find when you can position finding the best price as a game with extra money as the reward, then kids are eager to find the best deals and don't attach any stigma to using coupons or buying things on sale. I don't like wastefulness either, especially with things like office supplies. I'd rather use what I have and spend money on other things.
  14. Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
    I like asking the kids what they actually want as well. I didn't always do that and it wasn't really a fun experience for them. Now they get to pick some of the things they think they need/want for school. I am almost done just need a little supplies and one more backpack. Found a lot of stuff from last year to help out with school supplies in the closets.
    • Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
      Giving kids a voice really empowers them. Most kids just really want to be heard and when you explain the rules to them (wants vs needs/staying within budget) they will surprise you with their smart choices. It's so easy to overstock school supplies with prices so cheap! But it's nice to be able to shop our own supply closet and save some money.
  15. Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
    Love how you handled back to school shopping, especially about having them pick out one thing they really, really, want, etc. What a terrific way to balance letting them have both their needs and some wants too. Great job, mom!
    • Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
      Thanks, Laurie! Handling money is about making smart choices and learning how to balance wants and needs. Understanding how their wants fit into their choices has really helped the girls learn how to prioritize. It's also helped them judge how much they want something by their willingness to earn the money to buy it or find a creative solution to make it fit within their budget. All important skills to learn!
  16. Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
    Luckily we aren't that into specific clothes or branded items yet. I bought the items on the supply list like pencils and glue, but we really aren't buying much otherwise. Our current backpack is still just fine, and we have enough clothes to get started. These are great tips for when we do need to go clothes shopping, probably in a month when the little weed goes through another growth spurt.
    • Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
      My girls haven't heavily gotten into branded clothes yet but they definitely know what colors and styles they like! One of the hardest things about shopping for kids is those unknown growth spurts. Sometimes there are long periods where everything fits and then months when they seem to grow every week!
  17. Rita P @ Digital Spikes
    Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
    Very good post. I agree kids must be involved right from early age in budgeting and shopping. I like your tips especially one to challenge kids while shopping to pick the best priced items. I like the way you handle the inventory and buy only stuffs required and making kids understand about it
    • Thursday, August 15th, 2013
      Thanks, Rita! I think if young kids can get into the habit of looking for good deals and budgeting, then it makes it so much easier for them as adults when they are earning their own money. It's second nature to them and that's what I want for my girls.
  18. Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
    My teachers wanted new pens and notepads every single year until high school, it drove my mum crazy as some of them barely made us use them. As a result for college I barely bought anything!
    • Thursday, August 15th, 2013
      That certainly doesn't seem fair! Having notepads and pens, sure but it should be up to family whether they are new. :) At least you were still able to put them to good use in college!
  19. Friday, August 16th, 2013
    This is such great tips! I don't have kids yet but I to want them to be fiscally responsible. Teaching them the value of money and how to use it from a young age helps instill values that they might have otherwise learned once they left the house or once they've gotten a job

    • Friday, August 16th, 2013
      Thanks, Arelis! Teaching kids about money and how to use it SO important. Unfortunately, most parents don't realize this, so kids go off on their own with no idea how to budget, prioritize, etc. It's trial by fire and too many of them get burned.
  20. Friday, August 16th, 2013
    Great tips! Last year was the first time I actually did the inventory. I consider myself fairly frugal, and I was shocked with how much I could actually "recycle" back into the kids' school supplies. I also "shop ahead" buying up basic school supplies at both Target and Staples when they were "super-priced". Like this week, notebooks for a penny, Crayola products for $1. I keep a box stashed under my desk with the supplies I've picked up on the cheap so that through-out the school year, when all those pencils are used up, those erasers gone, I don't have to race out and pay full price.
    • Friday, August 16th, 2013
      Thanks, Carol! Same thing happened to me. Most of us doing one big back-to-school shopping spree and I probably noticed we had an overstock but would forget when the next school year rolls around. So then I would do it again. :) Wow - notebooks for a penny! What a great deal. I'd stock up too!
  21. Friday, August 16th, 2013
    Great back to school tips! My daughter is only in 1st grade and I already learned to dread back to school shopping. I did manage to remember to check our supply closet for things she brought home from last year. She also had an opinion on what type of bag and folders she wanted this year. I hope to teach her to budget well and not just buy everything.
    • Saturday, August 17th, 2013
      Thanks, Corinne! They absolutely have opinions on the things they like and do not like! :) It's what I love about working with the girls on budgets. They really learn how to prioritize and compromise; all the things we need to do.
  22. Saturday, August 17th, 2013
    Awesome tips Shannon! I love how you involve your daughters in the process. Can't believe in a few years, I'll be doing this with my daughter :)
    • Sunday, August 18th, 2013
      Thanks, Mackenzie! Time flies so before you know it, you'll be taking her back-to-school shopping. :) So often we do everything ourselves because it is faster, but then we miss the opportunity to teach our children.
  23. Monday, August 26th, 2013
    Hi Shannon,

    Thanks so much for the tips. I like the tip about taking inventory the best! I have a highschooler and college freshman and you would think after that much experience I would remember to do that. But instead I show up at store and purchase it all over again.


    Karla Twomey
    • Monday, August 26th, 2013
      You're welcome, Karla! Inventory seems so obvious but I think all of us are guilty of forgetting to do it! It's just so easy to head to the store and stock-up. Thanks for stopping and commenting; I appreciate it!
  • 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