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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Make Back to School Shopping A Financial Literacy Opportunity

There's only a few weeks of summer vacation left!  If you're a parent with school-age children, you probably can't wait for school to re-open.  For one, you'll stop having to pay for childcare or supervision not normally an expense when school is in session.  If you stay home with a small child, the older ones have probably overwhelmed you to the point of insanity by now.  I'm on vacation, but not really, as I have both my children to parent daily, and this is hard work when the two of them are only 19 months apart.

Rehani (front) and Ajani (back).  They are digging for treasure.  The activity killed a good hour, but the immediate bath time that was necessary was a painful chore.

Today's post is not about the whining that parents often get into, especially with other parents.  Rather, it is about using this time to prepare your 5th grade to HS child for a financial literacy lesson on budgeting.

Think back at the times when you went on back-to-school shopping trips to the store/shopping mall with your mom or dad.  Who got to decide what would be purchased 85-100% of the time?  Not you!  Yeah...it was your parents, the ones with the money.  You may have asked them for a particular trendy item, and only gotten a killer's look instead.  Back in my time, every kid in middle school wanted Guess overalls and Z. Cavaricci wear.  In high school at the start of the 90's, teens wanted anything Starter brand.  Expensive threads, let me tell ya.

Source. Z. Cavaricci.

The problem with parents being parents, controlling their finances by shopping for their kids each year they are in primary and middle school, albeit loosening their grip as kids become teens, is that this takes away an excellent teachable moment.  Kids and teens have something in common...they really get into back-to-school shopping.  Believe it or not, for some of them, this is the highlight of their summer vacation.  The excitement builds in them understandably.  They get to see their friends again and socialize en masse once more, and they want to look rockin' while doing it.

Budgeting can be introduced to children, adolescents, and teens without complaint of being "taught" something while on vacation.  By using your child's natural desire to want to be in the driver's seat come shopping time, you will seamlessly be able to impart a very valuable lesson about money to them.  Now let me share with you how you go about doing this.

Grades 4-5

When your child expresses an interest in wanting to select their shoes or clothes, etc., tell them that this year you have a finite amount of money to spend on all B2School stuff.  Teach them the definition of the word, finite.  Then tell them what total amount ($X) is and that this total amount is called, a budget.  Explain that you cannot go over this amount to them; it would be like losing in a game.

Then tell them that you will give them a portion of this budgeted amount ($Y) to make "buying decisions."  They get to decide what they will buy with their allotment.  Make sure they understand that that is all the money they get to make "buying decisions" with.  Do not give them any tips, like itemizing what they need prior to going to the store.  The learning will be maximized if they reach conclusions on their own.  Take them to the shopping mall, store, etc., and see what they do.  Do they buy one expensive item and then realize they have run out of funds too quickly?  Do they scrutinize each potential purchase?  Do they ask you for a calculator?  When all is done, have a conversation with them about the experience.  Ask them: 1) How did it feel being in control of the money?  2) What was the hardest part about sticking to a budget?  3) What could you do differently next time to make the experience less challenging for you?

One other suggestion: For kids grades 4-5, I would suggest you give them no more than $50 to control.  After all, you have to come to the rescue if they make mistakes and still get the things they need to be ready for school.

Middle School

Depending on their vocabulary, you can either mirror the suggestions for students in grade 4-5 above, or skip ahead to telling them they will get a $Y amount to make purchasing decisions out of the total B2School budget you have for this school year.  Tell them that you will buy whatever they didn't buy with their allocation, but with the caveat that you will not spend more than what remains of the total budget.  No bail outs.  For example, if they spent all their money on Nike shoes and didn't buy the pair of pants, shirts, and gym clothes they needed, now it will be up to you to do so, but with only the remaining portion of the budget.  So, in order for you to re-stock your child's wardrobe, you will need to go to discount or consignment stores now.  This may or may not embarrass them.  It's a toss-up depending on your economic situation.

Ask them post-shopping trip questions 1, 2, and 3 from above.  Middle school kids can be given a larger allotment, such as $100-$150, or no more than half of what you have budgeted in all for B2School expenses.

High School:

Teens claim they don't need you anymore, but of course they do.  They're not entirely wrong, however.  They do need full decision-making power when it comes to back-to-school shopping.  No teen wants their parent picking out their clothes, accessories, and shoes.  And you shouldn't be doing this, mom or dad!  You're hampering your teen's ability to transition into adulthood.  If they need a ride to the store/mall then fine; drop them off with their friends taking part so they are not alone.  Pick them up later.  Give them all of the budgeted amount for shopping.  Instruct them that they are to get whatever they need for school, their car, etc. and that there will be no bail outs!  If they forget to purchase a full tank of gasoline for their car, oh well...they get to take the bus the first two weeks of school.  If they didn't buy new gym clothes, then they get to wear the worn out ones from the previous year or get loaners from the school.  No bail out means no bail outs!

Teens won't need for you to ask them questions about their mistakes.  You can try, and maybe they will humor you.  The experience of being at the helm, and the consequence of their errors, will be enough pie in their face to reconsider the approach when tasked with shopping on a budget again.  

Don't give a teen more than $300 for back-to-school...they need to buy what they need using sales, and places like Ross/TJ Max.  This will help them become better consumers.  If they go to the premium store and blow their money on one or two things, again, no bail outs!     

Well, that about raps it up.  Thanks for being here today.  Don't forget to subscribe to CCM and get posts like this in your inbox 2-3 times a week.  C-los, out!


  1. Great Article! I am definitely one of those old school moms that comes home with the kids clothing for school. They never had any control when it came to my money. They got what they got and wore what they got simply because my mentality was more in the controlling type parent. I know the budget, it's my money, you don't get to decide what to do with it, you get the jist of it. Yup that's me. The good news is that I'm still working on me as I mature😃. Thanks to your lesson here, I am now open to playing with big money for the bigger lesson.
    Here's how we have done to teach some money lessons on a smaller scale 😊 or call it safe. When it comes to money they have earned, they each have 3-4 piggy banks. 1- save, 2.- spend, 3- share and they like to have one just for pennies. They are in control of that money 100%. 😃 When we go out they bring their spending money and decide how to spend it. I love watching them make decisions based on how much money they have. Mom never comes to their rescue even if it breaks my heart...

    Thanks again for the great article!!!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Joann! And I like your 3-4 piggy bank idea. I may have to copy it as Rehani and Ajani get older. Rehani has one piggy bank at the moment.