Our daughter is headed to 5th grade this year, and this summer has been a great opportunity to ratchet up her role in the back-to-school finances.
Currently our school budget category has about $ 450 in it. We deposit $10-20.00 a week into the category whenever we have a chance. This is an ongoing budget category because inevitably there are purchases that come up throughout the year. This fund covers school fees (yes, public schools have them), clothes, shoes, and school supplies.
The first budgeting opportunity was giving her the responsibility of looking at the school supply lists in July and combining all supplies required into one master list (if you take French, you need additional items; if you take Spanish, something else is required, and so on). She did that at the start of July which allowed us to go to OfficeMax and get a bunch of supplies for .25 a piece when they started early-bird sales. We focused only on the items with deep discounts and weren’t tempted by the full-priced items. Still time for other sales!
A word on school supplies… or maybe more than a word. When your kid is in Kindergarten if the teacher says you need a Bic pen in blue, by God, you will cross the earth to make sure you buy a Bic pen, lest your child’s blue pen be different than another kid’s pen. By 5th grade, that is all out the window. If the teacher wants Pink Pearl erasers, no way am I turning my back on Office Depot brand erasers for .01 as a loss leader. Ditto on the markers. If it is a reasonable-quality brand, we are going to live on the edge and get the ones on sale for .25.
Also, can we talk about #2 pencils? How many #2 pencils do you think a 10 year old could use in roughly 9 months. Now, about 1/2 the school day consists of non-pencil using activities like lunch, band, PE, etc. I would love for you to put your guess in the comments. Is it anywhere near…. wait for it…. 79 pencils?!?!?! We should have started sharpening these babies weeks ago! (Note for parents of small kids… start hoarding Ticonderoga pencils immediately)!
Another finance area for her to get involved was to see the amount we had budgeted for school needs and make some decisions about “optional” items like a new backpack and new lunch bag. I supported her wish for something a little more grown-up and let her look through some catalogs. She opted to get both items new for next year, knowing that choice may require some economizing down the road. Perhaps by being on top of the school supply sales we created more wiggle room for these “optional” items.
You may want to save on back to school because you have to… funds are tight and perhaps you are working Dave Ramsey’s steps. On the other hand, you may not need to save on school supplies, but this could be a space to teach your kids about financial decision making in an area that concerns them directly. My husband and I always say it’s important for kids to have some “skin in the game.” Now is the time to have money experiences when the stakes are low. Today’s backpack or Air Jordan decision is tomorrow’s decision about credit cards and college loans. I’ll let you know how our purchases work out. How is the back-to-school budgeting at your house?
Side note… if you are hoping to catch information on school supply sales I recommend the blog Hip2Save.