Back to school spending is up

According to a BMO study (by Pollara), Canadians are planning to spend about $428 per child.  The actual school supplies is a relatively small portion of that amount – maybe $25 to $40 for pens, pencils, paper, binders, etc.  So where is the rest of the money going?  I was asked the question on the Money Panel on Alberta Primetime if we are overdoing back to school?

Are we over spending for back to school?

The big problem is going back to school has not only become another excuse for retailers to have a big sale but it’s also an excuse for parents and children to spend money on things that may appear to be school related.

In this study, the biggest category of projected spending is on clothing which amounts to over half of the projected spending.  Does everyone really need new clothes to go to school?  What’s wrong with the clothes we wore all summer?

The study does not get into a newer category that was not as big of a deal when I went to school – electronics.  Today’s kids are living in a new era of technology and things like ipads, tablets, laptops and other electronic gadgets have become budget items for school learning.

At the end of the day, I do think back to school spending is getting a little carried away by the retailers, parents and children.  That being said, you can say the same thing about birthdays, Christmas, Valentines day, Mother’s day, Cyber Monday, etc.

Ideas to reduce back to school spending

So as we embrace this old spending phenomenon, here are a few quick tips and thoughts on how to deal with back to school spending

  • Set a budget – I’ve always said, averages can be very misleading.  Some parents will tell you that $400 per child is outrageously high while others will tell you they could never in a million years buy everything they need (or want) for $400 per child.  At the end of the day, spending is personal and it’s important to spend the number that makes the most sense for you.  Set a budget and do your best to stay in that budget.
  • Only buy what you need? – On similar lines, make sure you make a list of what you really need.  Impulsive buying is always to greatest key to overspending because retailers really know how to get you to spend more than what you intended.  The key is to make a list and do your best to stick you only what you need.  Go around the house to see if you have some items on the list that can be used without buying more.
  • Some sales are not great deals – Staples was advertising their Staples brand paper was a super back to school sale price.  While it was slightly cheaper than the normal price, they neglected to advertise that the HP brand of paper was actually a better salel  Some stores are great at packaging deals where you get 2 for $5 but if you just bought one, it’s $2.50.
  • Are brand name supplies better?  In some cases, the answer may be yes but many time, the answer is a clear no.  One of my boys, Connor, has a real thing for bright and funky patterned pencils.  He has every excuse in the book for why they are better and why he deserves those pencils.  My take is that the yellow ones work just as well and are slightly less expensive.
  • Involve the kids – In keeping with the theme of pencils, my oldest son. Robbie says “Dad, the funky pencils are only $1.50 more.  I’ll give him the $1.50.”   As generous at that is, I took this as an opportunity to help the kids understand the relative value of $1.50.  I asked the boys if they would you rather have a slurpee and the yellow pencils or the cool pencils but no slurpee?  They all decided (including Connor) the slurpee and the yellow pencils would work just fine.  I think back to school spending is a great time to involve kids and use it as an opportunity to teach them about not only money but also to reinforce the relative value of money and that spending a little more here and there can really add up.

My five cents

One might think that back to school spending would be a big deal in my household because of having 4 kids.  To be very honest, it’s not.  For us, back to school spending is about the supplies, the friendships and the event.  Our kids don’t get new clothes just because it’s back to school.  I happen to think the clothes they are wearing this week and last week are just fine for school.  That’s just me and my five cents.  What’s your thoughts?

Written by Jim Yih

Jim Yih is a Fee Only Advisor, Best Selling Author, and Financial Speaker on wealth, retirement and personal finance. Currently, Jim specializes in putting Financial Education programs into the workplace. For more information you can follow him on Twitter @JimYih or visit his other websites JimYih.com and Clearpoint Benefit Solutions.

2 Responses to Back to school spending is up

  1. We don’t spend anywhere near what is mentioned. We buy the school supply and it usually require a new backpack as the old one has usually gone through war 🙂

    Back to school expenses are actually more on the extra curricular activities since those kicked into gear. Hockey and Ringette spending along with gear updates where necessary.

  2. I’m not sure where people are shopping that they spend $250 to $350 just on clothing for back to school, but I’m assuming it increases as kids get older and more brand/fashion conscious. I don’t think we’ve ever spent more than $100, and that includes new runners because last year’s are too small. I guess we’re lucky that our teen is perfectly happy with runners, jeans and tshirts from Walmart and doesn’t see a need to get new stuff just because school is starting up. (He’d much rather have any money go towards a new phone or tablet.)

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