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Back-to-School Needs vs Wants

Written by Dominique Jarry Shore

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

Kids learn a lot about money from observing the way their parents handle their finances. Although back-to-school shopping isn't my favourite parental chore, I try to use it as an opportunity to teach my kids about responsible spending and balancing needs versus wants.

Here are some examples of how I do this:

Teaching About Compromise

I recently took my 4-year-old shopping for new running shoes. Though she told me what she really, really wanted was a pair of high heels, I explained they weren't practical (or even allowed) at daycare.

As a compromise, I let her pick whatever model of running shoe she wanted, as they were all within my price range. In this case, she didn't get what she wanted, she got what she needed. But giving her some control over choosing the running shoe was a good compromise for us. Hopefully the high heels are just a phase...

Teaching About Paying More for Better Quality

My son is going into Grade 2 and like many kids, brings a packed lunch every day. By the end of last year, his lunch bag was stinky and falling apart at the seams.

This year, I'm going to invest in a higher quality lunch bag that will hopefully withstand the wear and tear of the school year a little better. I'll take my son shopping with me and talk to him about the value of paying for quality. Sometimes it's worth paying more money for something you won't have to replace midway through the school year.

His backpack could probably last another year, but he really wants a new one. This is an example of a want, but one I'm willing to accommodate. In this case, I'll explain to my son that we'll try to buy a backpack that will last a couple of years and may also cost a little more.

Teaching About Budgeting

My 14-year-old daughter has started making some of her own money through babysitting and dog-sitting in our neighbourhood. She's learning how to budget her money, and back-to-school shopping is another chance for her to practice.

This year I'll ask her to estimate how much money she needs for all her school supplies, then give her the amount and challenge her to see if she can buy everything. This method also means a little less work for me, since I'm effectively outsourcing school supply shopping. Win-win!

My daughter also wants some fancy pens and stationery. Once she's bought everything she needs, we can either use any surplus for the extras she wants, or figure out another way to pay for them. Maybe I'll pay for half, and she can cover the rest with her babysitting money. Either way, she'll be learning to pay for her needs first, which is a really good habit to get into.

Getting My Kids Involved

Getting my kids involved in back-to-school shopping makes it more fun. Before your kids go back to school, consider using that school supply list as an opportunity to teach them some smart personal finance habits.

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