Mother daughter back to school
Posted by: Howard Dvorkin, CPA
Date of post: July 23, 2018

Don't give in. Teach them.

You’ve heard the expression, “A person with two watches never knows what time it is”? That’s because two watches are rarely set to the exact same second and minute.

For a CPA like me, the inverse is also true: If two financial experts come to the exact same conclusion, I definitely know what time it is.

It’s time to shake my head.

Here’s why: Only one week apart, two polls were conducted about back-to-school shopping — and both concluded everyone hates it. We’re talking both parents and their children.

“A majority of American parents (75 percent) and teens (73 percent) say back-to-school shopping causes tension,” says eBates.

Most teens complain their parents “wait until the last minute to do the shopping,” while most parents complain their teens “want the name brand when they can only afford the budget item.”

That same exact sentiment was corroborated in the Coinstar Back-to-School Survey released seven dates later. It declares that 70 percent of parents call back-to-school shopping “stressful” because of the peer pressure their children face to buy the latest fashions.

Emotions over money

I’ve written before that money is emotional. We often know what we’re supposed to do, but we succumb to our emotions because we don’t want to be perceived as cheap.

What else explains our annual compulsion to go into debt every holiday season? As if our love of family and friends is only determined by how much we spend?

Yet these two polls reveal what I’ve known for years: Many parents surrender to their children’s pleadings to buy them the coolest back-to-school items, even if they’re not the most affordable or even the most practical.

Save big by behaving big

Last year, we spent more than $70 billion preparing our children for a new school year. However, here’s the real question: Did we use back-to-school shopping as more than just a time to buy things?

Did we use it as a time to teach our children about the value of things?

As parents, we often give our children an allowance, which is a tangible way of imparting a crucial lesson: Money doesn’t grow on trees. You only get so much, so spend it wisely.

Back-to-school shopping is so stressful because children want the coolest clothes and gadgets to impress their friends, and they want you to spend your money to make them look cool.

Instead, try this: Give your children a modified allowance for back-to-school shopping.

I know what you’re thinking. “If I give my kid $500, he’ll buy one gadget or one outfit, and no new underwear or notebooks.” That’s why I say to modify the allowance.

Basically, you jot down a list of categories your child must cover. As long as they purchase all those items, you’re fine with their selections. However, they must get all those items.

I don’t doubt there will still be stress and tears. Every shopping season is stressful, but nothing beats back-to-school for the generation gap, when parents don’t even pretend to understand the importance of the latest status symbols of a new generation.

My parting advice: Don’t give in, and you’ll teach your children valuable lessons they won’t appreciate until they’ve graduated.