Back to School Savings: Teaching Your Kids that Less is More

As a kid I was always amazed at the amount of money my mom would spend on back to school supplies. Looking back, it just seemed like she was giving us what we wanted instead of what we needed. If we said we needed new school bags, we got them. If we needed a box of pens or pencils each, they went in the cart. Geometry sets, pencil crayons, Exacto-knives, you name it, she bought four sets of each. But it’s not like my brothers and I needed all of these things – certainly not all at once anyway. We just loaded up on whatever we thought we would need for the year. But every year we wouldn’t use half of it, or we would leave it behind in our lockers, or desks, at the end of the year, and we just wasted a lot of her hard-earned dollars. It was excessive.

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Now imagine if I added up all the money parents squander on the hype of back to school for their kids over the 12 years; most kids attend elementary school, middle school and high school. It would certainly be in the thousands of dollars; dollars that could be better spent earning income and being put towards your child’s higher education a little later in life. What if every year you could just save an extra hundred dollars per child on the bottom line when you do your back-to-school shopping and put it in their RESPs? Wouldn’t that money be put to better use one day buying university text books than being wasted today on designer erasers or state-of-the-art highlighters?

Back to school shopping is big business, but you don’t have to buy in to the advertising. You don’t have to stock your kids up like the stock room in a law office, and you shouldn’t be overpaying for pens and pencils and pencils sharpeners at some big box store. Most of what you need can actually be found at your local dollar store – cheap. And it can certainly be bought in smaller quantities, or in quantities that can be broken up and dispersed evenly amongst all of your kids.

Yes, some stuff will not last long, and it won’t necessarily be the brand names your children are used to, but it will help them read and write and do arithmetic just fine. And, it will help you put some much needed extra cash away in their college or university funds. Imagine, being able to put an extra couple of thousand dollars away when your child is between the ages of six and seventeen, having it earn interest and getting it matched twenty cents on the dollar by the federal government on the first $2,500 saved – it sure beats the custodian’s throwing it in the garbage when they clean out your kid’s desk, or locker at the end of the school year.

So before you go out and overspend on things like hole-punches or those things people buy to remove staples, maybe you should sit down with your kids and make a realistic list of things they will need for school this year and make them partially responsible for their own future (and what they waste). Tell them that every dollar you can save off their school supplies today will go towards their school requirements (room and board, books, food) tomorrow and see how quickly they’ll help you save a few bucks.

Now, I know it’s hard to teach a kid to be fiscally responsible with your money, so why not tell them it’s THEIR money to spend? Create a budget, allocate a specific dollar amount to each child, and make it an exercise in saving. Teach them they don’t have to spend the entire amount, and every dollar they save will grow and be given to them on the day they graduate high school. Teach them about the value of compound interest and investing for the future and show them how their money is making money for their future and your kids will be more than happy to spend less and save more.

Show your kids how contributing to a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) will set them up for a great future and provide them with the funds to live in your basement for twenty extra years while they pursue masters and doctorate degrees that they might otherwise not be able to afford without a little planning and savings. Or, just tell them you plan on kicking them out of the house at 18, and if they don’t have enough money saved up by then, they’re going to-gasp-have to work for it themselves, while going to school. That should have them pinching all their (your) pennies.

Adam Dolgin is our voice of fatherhood and the man behind popular parent blog Fodder 4 Fathers. Born out of one man’s search for the meaning of life after the birth of his daughter, Adam takes an entertaining and educational excursion in to the day-to-day domestication of the New Dad as he attempts to maneuvre through a life that is no longer his own. Humorous, poigniant, and always pushing the envelope, his take on fatherhood is a learning experience like no other. 

Adam Dolgin

Adam Dolgin, humorist, writer, blogger, entrepreneur and parenting expert, is the creator of Fodder 4 Fathers, an online parenting group for both moms and dads. A proud Canadian, Adam lives in Toronto, Ontario with his wife, Jessica, and their two small children, affectionately known to his fans as "D.D."and the "Lil F'er" (Lil Fodderer).

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