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Back to school budgeting 101

With the back-to-school season inching closer and closer (we’re sorry, but it’s true!), there is an ever-growing list of to-do’s that Canadian families are slowly starting to check off. Between coordinating logistics for pick up and drop off and juggling the stress of extra curricular activity signups, ensuring that your family has all of the supplies, clothing, and technology in place for the upcoming school year is no easy feat.

With a new school year, new expenses can add up quick. In 2016, the total value of home office supplies during back-to-school season totalled $549 million according to Stats Canada. Making sure you have a budget and shopping plan in place will help you ensure you don’t overspend beyond what’s absolutely necessary to kick-off the year. Here are five tips to help you keep your back-to-school shopping on track and to set your family up for a successful year ahead:

 

1. Do an inventory review

We asked some parents at Planswell what they had to say about how important taking stock of what you have leftover from last year and this is what Eric, Co-founder and VP of Client Success at Planswell had to say: “It seems like we buy the same things over and over.”

A lot of parents had the same experience. Year after year, back-to-school shopping can get repetitive if you’re not careful. It’s important to take a full inventory of your craft cupboard, home office, or wherever all of your supplies live to make sure that you’re making the most of the supplies you have leftover from last year. Many items don’t need to be re-purchased year after year. For example, backpacks and lunch bags are definitely items that should have a multi-year lifespan if you make the initial investment into some higher quality items.

 

2. Set a budget

Once you’ve completed an inventory review and you know what you actually need, not just the entire list the school sends out, you’re ready to set a budget and stick to it. Turning your kids loose with no concept of how much they’re allotted to spend in the school supply aisles is a sure way to end up overspending. Setting a limit on how much each child can spend allows them to really pick and choose to create a hierarchy of importance for what they actually need, not want.

There are many ways to organize your budget here. Having your kids put down everything they “want” is a good way to start. Then you can separate items into two categories: needs and wants. A good old spreadsheet is a great way to have everything in one place, then once everything is clearly allocated and decided on, you can print it off and head to the store!

 

3. Use cash

Once you include your children in the budgeting process, help them make their list and assess what’s within or outside of the budget. From there, the best way for your kids to really understand how strict budgeting should be is to allot a cash amount so they can really visualize how much they have to spend, and when it’s gone it’s gone.

Allowing your kids to actually take the cash to the store will help them see that if they don’t spend it all on back to school items now, they may have some leftover for something else they’re coveting.

 

4. Get creative

Teaching your kids from an early age that there are alternatives to buying everything new and from a mall is a good practice. Trading clothes and books with other families is a good way to show your kids that there are ways to get more bang for their buck.

There are many options for quality second-hand items. For example swap-and-sell Facebook groups or Facebook marketplace. If you have family in the area, consider buying in bulk and sharing. Taking the extra time to be more efficient with your budget will go a long way in showing your kids the importance of mindful spending.

 

5. Become an extreme couponer

All jokes aside about extreme couponing, coupons and promotions can be your best friend when it comes to back to school shopping. It’s important to include your children in flipping through that Staples flyer or printing off promotional emails.

Why pay full price for something when you can save on the exact same product? There are lots of apps out there that can help you get started with this like Toronto-based, Flipp which houses 1,000+ weekly flyers from local Canadian retailers all in one place.  Showing your kids the importance of putting an extra few minutes into finding a bargain will hopefully foster a habit for mindful spending that your children will carry on long past back-to-school season.

 

Getting back

Now that you have five tips to better prepare yourself for this back-to-school season we really hope the smell of newly sharpened pencils and fresh crayons brings your family joy instead of stress.

While back-to-school season is a great time to take inventory and stock up on some new items, it’s also the perfect time to take a look at all of your financial goals and ensure your family is on track for the long term. So before you run off to the craft cupboard to start that inventory checklist, spend the next few minutes building your free financial plan.

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