As mid-August rolls around it is hard to avoid the “Back-to-School” reminders. From groceries to electronics retailers are looking to cash in on stressed out parents. According to MoneyWise, Canadians spend on average $833 on back-to-school shopping with some parents spending $325 more on their children in September than at Christmas. It is no wonder that 53% of Canadian parents are feeling the financial strain that September can bring.

As a mom of two teenage daughters I am certainly not immune to the financial pressures of back-to-school shopping. Although my girls no longer need after school care and we have streamlined their extracurricular activities their wants have for new clothes, shoes and designer back packs has been the subject of many a dinner time conversation.

Three years ago when my eldest daughter started junior high our family came up with the five rules for back-to-school shopping. These golden rules have helped us to curb the urge to break that bank come September. Here are the five ways that we have cut our back-to-school spending in half!

  1. Take inventory – I can almost guarantee that if you start taking stock of the stationary supplies that are in your house right now you can come up with many of the things that are on your child’s supply list. In addition, if you buy a quality back pack, pencil case and lunch containers your child can use them for several years regardless of it they are “in style” or not.
  2. Make lists – once you have taken stock of what you have and compared it to your supply list make two lists. One for what you’re child needs right now and the other for those items that can wait for example: if a geometry set is on your supply list but your child is not going to be doing the geometry unit until the spring put it on the wait list. This way you will not have one time big expenditures and you can get better deals after the back-to-school rush.
  3. Have a spending plan! – We include back-to-school expenditures in our yearly spending plan. Each child is given an equal and set amount that has to cover their school needs and wants. Once we build our lists the girls are in charge of shopping for their supplies and are given their spending limits. It is up to them to make wise choices on what they buy.
  4. Let’s talk lunches – I can hear the collective groan from all you parents out there. Nothing is as life sucking as packing a school lunch. Ugh. We make the school lunch grocery list as a family and the girls are in charge of packing their own lunches. Even if your children are younger I still believe that having them involved in their lunches helps them make good decisions.
  5. Activities – In addition to supplies, clothes, shoes and lunches September is when most extracurricular activities begin. We sit down as a family in August to determine which sports and activities our girls want to commit to that year. We then take into account the cost of not just the registration, uniform and travel costs but also an estimate of the amount we may spend on gas and food. We then ask our girls to contribute a percentage to each activity. Two things happen when we do this a) the girls understand the financial and time commitment we are making as a family for each activity and b) we can determine how committed they are to their chosen activity.

The biggest lesson that I have learned after 11 years of surviving back-to-school is this: be a conscious spender and don’t buy into the hype. Not only will reusing the stationary that has accumulated in your junk drawers save your pocket book, it also helps the planet. Your child does not need the latest and greatest electronics to get great marks in school; they need you. If you are stressed about making money to pay for back-to-school you will not be present for your kids. The best predictor of student success is the extent to which families encourage learning at home and involve themselves in their child’s education.

Happy back-to-school everyone!

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