Go Back on a Budget – Send Them to School Without Breaking the Bank

By Tracy Nesdoly

Back to School Shopping

“Back to school” seems like it should be music to the ears of most parents who have been juggling keeping the kids busy and “Mom, I’m booooored” laments all summer – but more than half of Canadian parents say it’s one of the most stressful times of the year.

What has parents so anxious? Back-to-school preparations, namely shopping and spending, according to a 2014 survey by Ipsos Reid on behalf of Visa Canada, which found that sweet September is like “little Christmas” in terms of stress factors.

Luckily there are lots of family-friendly ways to mitigate the mayhem the season can cause to the household budget.

The Facts and Figures of Back to School

Many financial planners recommend adhering to the “50/20/30 Rule” which looks like this:

  • 50% of your income should go toward the basics – housing, food, utilities

  • 20% should go to big financial priorities – retirement and college funds, debt payments or your emergency fund

  • 30% of your income should go to “choices”, including funding your hobbies, vacations or, yes, back-to-school shopping

That’s the ideal world. But if you find BTS has crept up on you, start now to plan for next year.

Meanwhile, the Credit Counseling Society, a non-profit devoted to helping Canadians manage their finances, suggests involving the kids to kick off back-to-school with a lesson that will last a lifetime: How to budget.

Budgeting Tips and Tricks

How? Call a family meeting and make a big back to school list – it might be fun to colour-code it – that separates needs from wants. Let each child know what the budget is, and then do some online research together to figure out how much each item on the list is likely to cost.

From there, use this budget template to work with your children to make the decisions on where to spend their allotted money – such as splurging on a cool new pencil case but agreeing to use some other supplies left over from last year. The result should be fewer tears and less pull on the family purse-strings.

Your list can also help to figure out which items are must-haves for day one of the school year and what you can add later or stock up on when you find items on sale. As well, consider where you can economize without losing quality – paper and binders perhaps, rather than on markers or crayons where name-brands often last longer.

Depending on your children’s ages, you might also enlist them in making big purchases. If a pair of designer jeans or the must-have sneakers are do-or-die for day one, negotiate to pay for only part. Younger kids can use gift money and older kids can use part-time earnings towards their "wants".

One last reminder – like the holidays, back-to-school occurs every year. Whatever stress you’re feeling now, use it as your motivation to plan for next year’s breezy end to a busy summer.

By Michelle Janzso

July 08, 2015

Staples Canada