Managing Back to School Bills

Back to School | by Guest Author Linda Stern, Licensed Insolvency Trustee 

Back to School Shopping Bills

Back to school shopping is no longer about crayons and paper goods. The game changers today are electronics. Compared to a generation ago, these have become integral to the education experience. Depending on your child’s age, a TI calculator, tablet, laptop or smartphone may well have been on your back to school shopping list. And if you have more than one child, then back to school shopping was probably no small feat. 

The cost for electronics alone can amount to $500 per child, each fall. And that is in addition to traditional back to school items, like winter clothing for growing kids, backpacks, stationary etc. 

This time of year, parents across the land are receiving credit card bills and noticing just how expensive back to school shopping has become! Gone are the days when we just needed a protractor and ruler in our school kit. So, what can parents to do reign this in next year?

Be Discerning

First, we need to get a grip on back to school shopping and sift out the needs from the wants. Advertising and peer pressure sometimes muddle up this choice for children. In fact, children younger than 10 years old rarely require their own electronic devices for school. Older kids would, and you should review their curriculum to make a comprehensive list of necessary items.

Secondly, don’t underestimate the savings gleaned from second-hand and refurbished electronics. Does your middle school child really require the latest, fully loaded, MacBook Pro for school work?

And finally, if your child can make do with electronic devices you already have around the home, could you wait for Black Friday or Boxing Day sales to make this purchase? This way, you will have time to research the best deals in-store as well as on-line.

There is no reason for you to be as impulsive as your kids about large ticket electronic purchases. Especially during this time, you must remain mindful about the trade-off between today’s back to school purchases versus saving for their post-secondary education

Opening the discussion about budgets can help them prioritize their needs. They will draw upon these skills before you know it, when they come face-to-face with making adult decisions about school loans, rent, tuition and books, meals, miscellaneous academic fees, entertainment and travel expenses. 

First year of University

The first time your child leaves home for college or university is a watershed moment for many families. You want to ensure your child will be as comfortable at school as they are at home. Shopping for this occasion is sometimes an emotional experience, where practicalities and budget get thrown out of the window.

In fact, some retailers count on exactly that. Many stores now offer back to school shopping lists targeted specifically for the freshman. Sales staff will walk you through the store, itemized list in hand, and check off each item on the list. They will leave you reassured that your child will want for naught. And you will walk out of the store with a large credit card bill to contend with later.

Before you engage in this type of “convenience” shopping, take a very pragmatic view at it. If you have a linen closet full of towels at home, do you really need two brand new ones noted on the list? In fact, planning is your best weapon against impulsive and last-minute back to school purchases for college. Parents of kids in Grade 11 and 12 can start a university tote in the basement to collect these items over time. 

Money Management

Parents should take pause with back to school shopping. Today, we spend more when kids go back to school than we do for Christmas gifts! These expenses arrive just when we are paying off the summer vacation bills. And in a few short months, holiday shopping season begins.

If your credit card bills leave you overwhelmed this time of year, then you are not alone. Credit card debt has been on a steady rise in Canada over the last decade.  It is one of the most difficult types of debt to get out of because of high interest rate penalties, among the highest in the money lending industry. Seeking help as early as possible will help you stave off long-term and unmanageable debt. 

Credit Counsellors

Financial advisors would agree that the best means of controlling expenses is through a budget. For many individuals, this is a learned skill. Budgeting provides perspective about the journey your money makes in and out of your bank account.

A credit counsellor can help you with efficient tools to create a budget and manage your spending. While they primarily assist people with debt challenges, you do not have to be in financial trouble to seek out their services. 

Depending on your child’s age, the school year can bring many extra expenses which you should account for in your budget. They include school and gym uniforms, field trips, extra curricular activities and tutoring. If you have not planned for them, they will leave you in a cash crunch. Having this visibility ahead of time will allow you to set proper limits on your back to school shopping list.

What gets tracked gets measured and a credit counsellor can help you with both. 

Linda Stern | Licensed Insolvency TrusteeLinda Stern, a Licensed Insolvency Trustee, is a guest blogger for Family and Credit Counselling Services, a blended not-for profit community-based agency offering debt counselling & management as well as family/individual support services within York region.

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