Q: While doing some shopping last week, I couldn’t help but notice how far “back to school” has gone for retailers. While my kids are still young and only need the basics, when did the school supply list start to include new dorm furniture? With so much advertising and hype how can parents help kids learn what is reasonable and what isn’t?
A: There’s something exciting about starting a new school year each September. Expectations are high, and from a retailer’s perspective, they’re even higher. The back to school shopping season has become a close second to Christmas. But you’re right; starting a new school year shouldn’t mean a shopping spree that breaks the bank.
It’s sometimes easier for parents of younger children, than those with teens, to make choices for their children in line with the household budget and expectations. However, if you want to teach your children about making their own responsible financial choices, the key is to start early. Shopping for things they need, like school supplies, is great way to help them learn as you involve them in the decision-making process.
For young children, allow them to help choose their pencil case and backpack. As they get older, help them compare price and quality as they look at their supply list. Once they can add and subtract easily, give them a set amount of money and help them as they choose what they need and can afford within that limit. When they become teens, provide a limit as to how much you can afford for what they need and want, and then support them as they either shop within their allotted budget, or as they look for ways to earn a little extra cash to top up what you’ve given them. Learning how to balance priorities and make reasonable choices takes time and practice.
Once high school is over and our young adults look to leave home, we hope that they’ll be able to manage their money and make reasonable choices. In reality, the school of hard knocks teaches many of them some tough lessons. Falling prey to sophisticated marketing, high expectations of what they “should” buy and giving in to wants before needs is an expensive way to start living on their own.
Just like learning to read, kids need to practice making spending choices and using money so that they get good at it. This year, start school early with some financial lessons and shop for back to school together.