Back-to-School on a Budget: Schooling Your Teens

by Steve Georgoulakis, CFP® on Friday August 18, 2023
Posted in Category: Budgeting, Family
Tagged with : ,

three teenagers at school building

Want to feel old?

Go back-to-school shopping with your teen like I recently did. You’ll learn the latest fashion trends, hairstyles, and lingo to make the upcoming school year a success. Trust me, you’ll feel old.

But, with age comes wisdom, and back-to-school shopping is the perfect time for your teen to learn some important life lessons from you.

Call it “mom-onomics” or “dad-onomics” — the study of your bank account and its limits on paying for their swag, drip, fit or whatever cool term your teen uses to describe the concept of individual style.

Just know this — as our kiddos get bigger, so do the price tags associated with back-to-school. Long gone are the days your child asks for the larger, 128-color box of crayons with the sharpener.

So, what’s a parent to do?

First, be prepared for the wallet smackdown that’s undoubtedly coming your way. Second, why not make this process edutaining for both you and your teen? Here are some ideas that might help.


Keep the Change

Work with your teen to outline items they need to start the school year — a haircut, new pair of jeans, shorts, hoodies, shirts, socks, shoes, etc. Give them an amount to budget for these items. Then, dangle the carrot that they can keep any money they don’t spend. Pending your approval of their plan, of course.

Tell them to go shopping online and save their choices for you to review later.

See what happens.

My hunch is your teen will surprise you and find all their items for less than the proposed budget.

Can they actually keep the change? Sure. It might be the perfect opportunity to teach them about an emergency fund to replace or buy something they will inevitably need.  Remember, you never said they could spend the difference on whatever they wanted!

If they can’t find the items for the allotted budget, this creates the opportunity to discuss prioritizing needs versus wants.


The Match Game

Adopt the same concept as Keep the Change, by outlining the items your teen needs for school.  Assuming your teen is working, or has worked a summer job, explain that you will match the money they spend on their own back-to-school items. Maybe it’s dollar-for-dollar or simply a stated amount you can afford.

Many teens will dramatically reduce their spending when they’re footing a portion of the bill.


Share the Wealth — or at Least the Knowledge.

Now it’s your turn.

I’d love to hear from you on this topic. What are your best life hacks to pay for back-to-school expenses?  Send us a message and let us know!