• Amba Brown

How to Avoid Back-to-School Overspending and Feel Good About it, Too

Parents want their children to have the best start possible on that first day of school. For most parents, giving children a good start means that at least some back-to-school shopping is in order.


Children may need new shoes, clothes, and backpacks along with at least some new supplies. But how can parents on a budget draw the line between wants and needs? Especially when a child is begging for a fancy new backpack when the one from last year is perfectly fine? Will it affect their self-esteem or school performance to wear hand-me-down clothes?

As the weeks draw closer to the end of summer, stores market their back-to-school merchandise everywhere we turn. Parents may feel pressured to buy things because they keep seeing these items on display, or because a child’s friends’ parents have bought these things for their own children. No parent wants their child feeling left out. Perhaps that’s why one survey found that 43% of parents feel pressured to overspend on back-to-school items.

What constitutes overspending? This depends on your budget and your child’s needs, but the National Retail Federation (NRF) has predicted that parents will spend some $696 per child during the 2019 back-to-school shopping spree. For some 60% of parents, coming up with this much cash is a challenge.


It’s true that some children will ache a little seeing their classmates with nice new things, when they are making do with last year’s items. The antidote to this is to educate children in economics. Parents can also shop around and take advantage of sales to ensure they spend as little as possible on what they do buy. That gives you more bang for your buck, so you just might be able to provide for all your child’s needs.


Here are some tips for minimizing pressure and stress as you help get children ready for that first day back to school:

  • Talk to your child: Explain to your child that you have budgeted a certain amount of money for school supplies. Don’t say, “I can’t afford this.” Instead, explain why it is important that you stick to the budget you’ve created.

  • Be creative: Buy plain clothes and tops at low prices and get creative with things like puff paint, glue, and sequins. Let your child help you dress things up. Your child will feel proud of her one-of-a-kind school items.

  • Plan ahead: Shop for school supplies ahead of time. Prices are high during the back-to-school rush. Not so much in say, October. Buy things then, and store them for the coming year. That way your child will have nice new things for cheap.

  • Look for bargains: Take your time and shop around. Go to dollar stores. Watch for sales and online deals. It’s called “shopping smart.”


Parents should also be having an ongoing conversation with kids about materialism. Things are nice, but not as nice as being a nice person, and being a good friend. You already know these things, but kids may find these concepts difficult to understand. That is why you need to talk about this and why it needs to be a continuing discussion.


A good time to talk about materialism is when your child comes home enthused about a friend’s latest acquisition, whether it is a toy, a new pair of pants, or a smartphone. You can listen and agree that the item sounds amazing. Then you can ask, “What nice thing did you do for someone in school, today?” or “What made you feel good, today?”


Redirecting the conversation back to the important things in life: being kind, a good friend, doing your best in the classroom, helps children understand that money isn’t the most important thing. And neither are the things that money can buy.


Written by Varda Meyers Epstein, Editor of Kars4Kids Smarter Parenting and a mother of 12.


#BacktoSchool #Parenting #budgeting