Kids & Money: Back to School Perfect Chance to Teach Priorities

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back to schoolIt’s back to school time. The summer seemed to fly by, and now it’s time for the kids to replenish their school supplies and prepare their back to school wardrobes. The budget can get a little out of control this time of year, especially if you let your kids dictate how much you spend. Pretty soon, the requests can get crazy, and you might find that you spent way more than you wanted to.

One way you can keep your own costs under control is to encourage your kids to help pay back to school expenses. There is no reason why kids can’t learn a valuable money lesson from this whole back to school experience.

Teaching Children about Priorities with Back to School Shopping

Having your children help pay for their own back to school shopping doesn’t mean that they have to buy everything themselves. When I was growing up, my parents gave my siblings and me a limit for school clothing. Once we hit that limit, we were done; any other clothes we wanted had to be paid for with allowance money, or money from a job. I learned, pretty quickly, that if I bought classic clothing without designer labels, I end up with an entire wardrobe. My sister, on the other hand, thought it more important to have one or two designer items. She often had to use her “own” money to fill out the wardrobe.

We did something similar with my son. We told him we were willing to spend a certain amount on his shoes. If he wanted costlier shoes, he would have to pay the difference. After much deliberation, he decided he wanted to keep his money and use it for a video game.

This process teaches children to weigh their options, and make better choices. It can also teach them value. If you pay for everything, without question, your kids learn to expect it — and they won’t learn to make sometimes hard decisions. We can’t always have everything all at once, and back to school shopping can help your child learn to make different decisions, and budget their money. And, if they have to use their own money, they might make smarter decisions that help them get more bang for their (or your) buck.

Other Back to School Costs

You can do this with more than clothing. If there are basic school supplies to purchase, you can offer to buy the necessities, but make it clear that your children will need to pay the difference if they want something more. You can also institute rules for extracurricular activities. You might offer to pay the costs associated with one or two activities, but tell your kids they’re on their own for more. This can help your children learn to decide what’s really important to them.

My parents paid for basic costs, such as participation fees and required equipment. I was expected to pay travel related costs. So, for my swim team involvement, my mom paid the fees, and paid for me to do extra lap swimming at the pool. She also agreed to buy the team suit worn at competition. I, however, had to pay travel costs to go to out of town meets, and buy my own practice suit, since I didn’t want to wear my “leisure” suit to practice.

In the end, you need to decide what’s reasonable for you to pay, and what your kids can expect to pay. Then explain to them that they have to make choices that work for them — and the family budget.

How do you handle back to school shopping?

(Photo: interpunct)

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