For fall 2021 the average family plans to spend nearly $850 on electronics, clothes and other K-12 school needs, according to the National Retail Federation. Even so, with COVID-19-related school reopening plans all over the map (and seemingly changing by the day), it can be hard to get a handle on your likely expenses.
Even so, many kids are invested in back-to-school shopping, whether it’s little ones excited about shiny new binders or teenagers hoping to snag some new shoes. That interest makes it easier for you to sneak some money education in and teach them how to stick to a budget. You can even make a game of it. Here are a few ideas.
List needs vs. wants
Being able to differentiate between what you must buy and what you’d like to buy is a valuable life skill, and one that even small children can grasp. Use index cards to list things your child might buy during back-to-school shopping, then have your child pin or tape them to a labeled bulletin board or poster board, under Want or Need. That binder required by the teacher? That’s a Need. The sneakers that light up when she walks? Those are a Want. Offer a prize or small amount of money for each item in the right place, and discuss how you might divvy up your back-to-school budget across the list. (Hint: The Needs should come first.)
Hold a “Price Is Right” competition
Before going shopping (online or off), have your children look at a written supply list, with both wants and needs, for the upcoming school year, then have them guess how much it’s all going to cost. To drive the point home, make a list with two columns — the estimated cost and the actual price. The child who gets closest to the final actual total without going over, as per the “Price Is Right” game show, wins an extra back-to-school prize.
Put your kids in charge
Consider handing your back-to-school cash over to your kids and offer them some incentive to stick to the budget (under your shopping supervision, if necessary). First, tell them that’s all the cash they’re getting. Second, if they manage to buy everything they need for less than what you’ve given them, they get to keep the difference.
Smaller children may need more guidance during the picking and choosing than older kids. Let them check out themselves and hand over the money for their items. There’s nothing like parting with their own dollars to teach kids to seek out the best deals. And when they see what a big bite an expensive item will take out of their balance, they might seek out cheaper alternatives. Within reason, resist the urge to bail them out if they make poor decisions — living with bad spending choices is one of the best ways to learn how to be responsible with money.