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Back to School Tips – How to Balance Your Budget with Needs and Wants

by Julie Jaggernath

Tips to help you make smart spending choices as you shop for back-to-school and balance your budget with what kids need and want.

Back to School Tips - Save with a Budget for Needs and Wants

I was helping my son sort and straighten up in his room the other day, and I came across a pile of duotangs, notebooks, paper and a big package of pencil crayons on the shelf in his closet. At first I assumed this was part of what he brought home with all of his end-of-the-year stuff, until I looked more closely. What the heck?! These were new school supplies – from last September. They never made it to school in the first place!

I’ve never been one to go over-board with buying lots of new back to school supplies for September, but this will make me look at next year’s list from the school even more critically. My son made it through all of grade 5 without running out of anything he needed, and he didn’t end up using about a quarter of what had been requested. Not doing all of his homework all the time does save paper…. but that strategy likely won’t cut it for grade 6!

Back to School Shopping is a Windfall for Retailers

Aside from those of us who are conservative back to school shoppers, there are a lot of parents who splurge with back to school shopping, as much for themselves as for their kids. They are a retailer’s dream come true, which is one reason why the back to school shopping season is nearly as profitable as Christmas. 

Why Does “Back-to-School” Mean “Buy-Everything-New”?

The start of school in September is steeped in tradition, however, getting back to normal routines and schedules shouldn’t be about buying everything new. As we take a look at what our kids want, what their schools are asking us to buy, what advertisers say we need, and our own attitudes towards what we need and want, this is a great time to decide how much we are going to allow others to dictate our spending choices. 

Related: How to Stretch Your Back-to-School Budget

Certain school supplies need to be replenished each year so that kids have what they need; binders, paper, pens, pencils, and art supplies just to name a few. As kids get older, there may be specific electronics, musical instruments or sports equipment on the list as well.

Teenagers shopping for back to school clothes with a budget

Don’t Waste Money Buying Clothes Your Kids Don’t Want to Wear

When it comes to clothes, most kids can still wear their summer clothes for the first few weeks of school while the weather is still nice. This has the added benefit of seeing what’s “in” once school starts, and then only buying what’s actually needed and wanted.

How to Avoid Spending More Than You Can Afford

To make sure you don’t crash your credit card, set a budget for what you’re able to spend and then ask your kids to help find ways to get what they need while sticking to the budget. This may include recycling some supplies from last year, watching for sales or waiting to buy items until they’re actually needed.

Most kids are happy to re-use a favourite pencil case or binder, so letting them choose how they want to help stick to the budget is a great way to help them be satisfied with the decisions and teach them money skills at the same time.

Think About Your Motivation for Buying

Part of being a critical shopper is really questioning your motivation for buying what you’re buying. This is a valuable skill to teach your kids. As you do your back to school shopping, ask yourself if you’re falling for the advertising hype, bowing in to peer pressure or just doing what you’ve always done. All of these can lead to spending more than you really can afford.

Help Your Kids Understand How to Balance a Budget with Needs and Wants

As you make your decisions, talk to your kids and help them understand your reasoning behind your choices. Explain why you have a budget for back to school shopping and how you’re balancing what they need with what they want. Right now it’s just about school supplies and new jeans or hoodies. In the years to come, it’ll be about more expensive choices, likes cars, vacations and mortgages.


Related: Tips to Teach Kids About Money

Help Your Teen Budget and Plan with Their First Pay Cheque


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