Before you know it, your kids will be cracking the books. But even before they set foot in class, you can use this time to teach them some important lessons of your own: ones on how to manage money.
The back-to-school season does, after all, make perfect sense for just that. Between stocking up on school supplies and browsing for sports equipment, there are plenty of opportunities to teach your kids some simple financial skills that will serve them far into the future. And most parents seem to believe money lessons are crucial to instill early on: 92% of parents responding to the 2016 LearnVest/Barclaycard Financial Literacy Research survey said it was either very or extremely important to introduce their children to financial concepts.
So we asked some kids-and-money pros for timely advice on how to steer your children right when it can feel so easy to spend money first without thinking about the effect on your wallet later. Read on for their simple but powerful suggestions.
Lesson 1: You Probably ‘Need’ a Lot Less Than You Think
Once those fun back-to-school commercials start rolling out on TV and online, it’s common for kids to want to rush to the nearest store. But insist that your children shop their closets and desks first, says Anand Marri, associate professor of social studies and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, who cocreated the school’s financial literacy program.
“They get caught up in the newness idea. [But] what do your kids really need? Go through everything and assess what is no longer useful,” Marri says. “It works better if you do a little give and take. Maybe your child can wear half the clothes from last year as long as they still fit, and you can think about adding on to that with some new things.” Same goes for school supplies—is there really any reason their old soccer cleats or locker swag can’t be reused? Show how wise it is to take inventory of what they own and to not waste money by duplicating items they’ve merely forgotten about.
Deciding together what to do with the castoff gear is also another wonderful teaching moment. “Think about giving it to charity,” suggests Marri. “Parents and teachers can also get together to find a good local place to donate items from an entire class. It shows children that resources aren’t infinite, and that there are a lot of people—not only across the whole world but also in our communities—who aren’t as fortunate as we are and need some of what we are lucky enough to have.”
Lesson 2: Impulse Buys Can Blow a Budget
It happens to even the most diligent of parents: You and your child enter the mall intending to buy only a new pair of shoes—and leave with an extra book bag, a tennis racket and enough snacks to feed a hockey team.
To nip these types of impulse purchases in the bud, Sheri Atwood started making shopping lists with her daughter early on. “When my daughter was going into first grade, I started insisting on making a list of school supplies, because the year before we went supply shopping with only a mental list. And as my daughter looked around, suddenly 20 more things ended up on it,” says the founder and CEO of SupportPay, a child-support app that helps parents easily share kid-related expenses. “After that, I told her if something wasn’t on the list, we weren’t going to buy it.”
Making a list has the added benefit of helping kids learn to make spending compromises and trade-offs. “As my daughter got older, around middle school, I started giving her her own budget for school supplies,” Atwood explains. “Her list might have ‘pencils’ on it, but she’d have to decide what type of pencils she’d buy. One time she wanted a fancy mechanical pencil, but when she realized that she could get 20 plain ones for the same price, she decided that the mechanical pencil wasn’t a must-have after all.”
Then there’s always the “sleep on it” litmus test to build more forethought and restraint into your child’s spending psychology, suggests Marri. “One of the hardest things for kids to understand is delayed gratification,” he says. “I always try to say to kids that if you see something in the store now, sleep on it and figure out whether it is really worth it. If you still want it the next day, then it might be. But most times you discover that you didn’t really want it so badly after all.”
Lesson 3: With a Little Patience, Better Deals May Await
There’s something about back-to-school season that incites the notion that you have to bite on sales “while supplies last.” But giving in to the hype often leaves your wallet worse for wear.
Julie Murphy Casserly, CFP®, mother of four and author of the book “The Emotion Behind Money: Building Wealth from the Inside Out,” suggests that kids can grasp the concept of off-season shopping, particularly if they are in middle or high school. “Try asking, ‘Can you get four more months out of that backpack? If we buy one in January, backpacks may cost a lot less then—and you may be able to get a cooler one for the same price as a basic one now,’ ” she says.
By nurturing a bargain-hunting mind-set, your children may even learn themselves how to time purchases right so they can make their money go further. Atwood’s daughter, for instance, developed an eagle eye for deals and promotions. “She finds out when she is [planning to go] to a store what the deals are,” Atwood says. She recalls one instance where a brick-and-mortar retailer said it would price-match school supplies, “so my daughter printed out a list of lower prices she found [online] and brought it to the store. They matched them.”