Back-to-School: 7 Financial Tips for Parents

This time of year I embark on my love/hate relationship with back-to-school. The kids going back to school sounds like a choir of angels singing music to my ears compared to the current airwaves of sibling warmongering. That’s my love part.

The hate part is the endless money drain that September always seems to bring with it. I feel like after 5 years of getting these same bills over and over I should know better, but they keep taking me by surprise. School fees, school supplies, bus transportation, fun lunch, field trips, school fundraising (those dang entertainment books always get me!) And oh yeah, don’t forget dance, piano, hockey, and accordion lessons are all starting up again too! Requests for money are everywhere!

I find recurring expenses, like the water bill, easy to plan for and budget for, but it’s all the one-time expenses that are hard to plan for, especially when you aren’t exactly sure what amount is being thrown at you.

So enough is enough.

Here are 7 Back-to-School Financial Tips for Parents:

Tip#1 – Write out a list of approximately what you think all the school bills due in the month of September will amount to and total them up.

My list looks like this:

School Fees: $300

Bus Transportation: $450

Fun Lunch: $110

Fundraisers: $40

Choir: $600

Piano: $250

Total: $1,750 or $146 a month.

Then, take this total and divide by 12 to figure out what you need on a monthly basis to save up.  It’s a lot easier for me to save $146 a month, versus spending $1750 all in one month. This works for Christmas gifts too!

What’s important about this strategy is that you are being pro-active and not re-active. This is a calming strategy. This is making decisions ahead of time and totally reduces your stress.

As simple as this may seem, and we all know this head knowledge, doing it is another story entirely. So just spend 5 minutes and do this. I do this on a sticky note. So it doesn’t have to be fancy.


Tip #2 – Create a free sub-account for your kids

I have a sub-account (the free e-accounts at your bank) that I nickname: Kids. In this kids account, I keep all my specific payment for kids in that account. (And for my kids their monthly RESP and Life & Critical Illness Insurance Payments come out of that account as well.) I also get my government payments into this account, that way, I don’t have to worry if there is money in that account for all the automatic payments.

Plus I have cheques for this account, so when I write cheques to the school (yes, our school still takes cheques – YIKES!), then I don’t have to worry about them getting mixed up in my regular household account. Who wants the embarrassing call that you bounced a cheque for $20 because you weren’t paying attention to that account! Not me. Been there, done that.

Tip#3 – Look for discounts on school supplies or reuse from last year.

I find kids bring home so many supplies that they haven’t used. I’m sure I have a drawer of 30 erasers, 17 rulers, and a bazillion pencils and a shoebox of pencil crayons or buy school supplies on clearance in October for the next school year.

Tip#4 – Pre-plan lunches!

I always get caught not having lunch foods in my house. So, I’m the one at the corner convenience store buying Lunchables for double the price late on a school night. So a little pre-planning on my end would probably pay for my expensive latte habit anyways!

Tip#5 – Start saving toward your RESP.

I can’t believe how fast kids grow up and I just realized my kids are about 10 years away from university. CRAY! So, to make sure you aren’t super stressed about post-secondary education, make sure to start saving $50 or $100 a month to your child’s RESP.  The government will add 20% and some provincial governments add a few other bonuses, depending on where you live.

Tip #6 – Research financial aid if you need it.

I do know in my province that lower income families do get certain subsidies towards school or transportation costs. So, it may be helpful to talk to your school and find out what subsidies are available.

Tip#7 – Get your kids involved.

Show your kids the cost of their education and all the activities they part-take in. Even if it rolls over them, it’s important to show them that there’s a cost.  The word cost seems to have a negative connotation for most people, and kids pick up on that. So maybe even explain it as a way of trading or exchanging something of value for something of equal value. You can also get your kids to work a summer job or do extra work around home or the office and put it towards a fun trip or activity that they want to do.

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