If you have school age kids, you know how easy it is to slip into the vortex of back-to-school shopping. Sales on clothes and shoes are hard to resist, school supplies start popping up in all kinds of stores, and we’re pounded with commercials all giving the impression that every kid needs all new stuff every year.

We know logically that’s not true, and we try to curb our shopping. But each individual item is so small, inexpensive, and it’s a practical purchase anyway, so we say, “Why not?!”

As we inch closer to the first day of school, the extra items (and the extra dollars) pile up. Then we hit November, look around the house, and realize, “Oh my goodness, Christmas is going to kill us!”

We have to find some way to draw a line in the sand and find a way to only buy what is necessary, and chuck the rest.

Well, something happened to me last week that really got me thinking about this.

My daughter asked me for a new backpack.

back to school girls backpacks

Okay, on the surface, that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but here’s the thing … she already has three backpacks!

  • The unicorn one from Santa, which she uses for school.
  • The Hello Kitty one was a birthday gift, which she uses for dance class.
  • And the purple one was also a gift, which she never uses.

When I asked her why she wanted a new one, she responded, “I’m just tired of the unicorn one.” Just so you know, she’s only had that one for seven months!

One word immediately popped in my head: entitlement.

We’ve all seen what happens when kids grow up expecting to be handed everything they want, and it’s not good.

I wasn’t going to buy one for her, but I didn’t want to just flatly refuse. Ultimately, I want my daughter to grow up to be a thoughtful, wise shopper: a mature young lady who is able to think through her emotions and decide between a valid need, a strong want, and a passing whim.

I want her to understand the reality that stuff comes from money, and money comes from work. I also very much want to protect my home from clutter, which (duh) means not having four backpacks per kid!

back to school shopping

So, I took the opportunity to walk her through the process of making her own decision.

The conversation went something like this:

“Okay, sweetheart, let’s think about this. You already have three backpacks. Do you need another?”

“Umm… no.”

“You’re saying that the only reason you want a new one is because you’re tired of the designs and colors of the ones you have?”

“Yeah, I want a mermaid one!”

“So, you understand that it doesn’t really make sense for me to buy a brand new backpack for you when you don’t need one.”

“I guess.”

“But you can save up your money and buy one for yourself. Of course, if you do that, you will have to donate one of your old backpacks to make room.”

“Yes! That’s what I want to do!”

“Do you know how much a backpack costs?”

“Umm … not really.”

We counted how much money she had saved, jumped online to look at some prices, then we calculated that it would take her three weeks to save up enough money to buy herself a new backpack, assuming she earned her stars each week.

It has been over a week now, and she has consistently resisted the temptation to spend her money in the name of saving up for her new backpack. I’m loving it!

Practice the Conversation of Saving

Every time she asks, Mommy, can I get this? I get to say, “Sure, you can buy it for yourself, but it will take you longer to save up for your backpack. Other than one pack of gum, she has always chosen to put whatever it is back on the shelf. I am not saying no, she is choosing that the backpack is more important.

When we put the purchasing power into their hands, our kids learn patience, to work for what they wants, and how to evaluate which wants are worth working for. It’s awesome!

Imagine what would happen if we used this same strategy for all the requests for unnecessary back-to-school stuff? We would save money, avoid the excessive stuff, and teach our kids incredibly important life lessons!

back to school shopping

1. Sure, there are some items we always have to buy new each year. The dried-out erasers, the broken crayons, the used-up notebooks, and of course the specific supplies each new teacher asks for. But let’s fight back against the lie that every kid needs a brand new everything every year.

So as back-to-school shopping draws near, let’s use it as an opportunity to erase any trace of entitlement out of our kids’ mindset.

Here are a few things you can do now to get ready …

Clothes and Shoes

1. Work with each child, go through all of the clothes and shoes they own and delete anything that is either outgrown or worn out.

2. Count the keepers and make a list of what is still needed.

I just did this with my four year old son. Even after decluttering, he still has more than enough clothes (at least until the next growth spurt). The only thing on his back-to-school clothing list is one pair of sneakers.

Since he went through his clothes with me, and he counted all 12 T-shirts for himself, he understands why I won’t buy him a new T-shirt. Before we set foot in a store, he knows that if he wants a new T-shirt, he’ll have to buy it for himself.

School Supplies

Want to kill ten birds with one stone? Try this!

1. Have your kids gather all of the school supplies from the entire house. (Every crayon, pencil, pair of scissors, all of it!)

2. Have the kids test each marker and glue stick and toss the dry ones.

3. Have them sharpen the pencils, while you clean and sharpen the scissors.

4. Arrange all the good supplies in piles.

5. Look at each child’s supply list and cross off as many things as you can using what you already have.

There’s no rule that the colored pencils have to be new! The kids will break them and sharpen them five times the first week anyway, right? As long as you have the basic 8 colors, who cares?

There’s no rule that the glue stick has to be new. If it runs out in a month, you’ll buy a new one then.

And when a child begs for something new, toss the ball right back in their court.

“We’re only going to buy what we need. But, you can buy yourself a new box of crayons if you want. How much money have you saved?”

They might grumble, but they’ll get used to it. (Trust me, it’s worth it.)

Back-To-School shopping is a powerful force. It has the potential to drown our homes in unnecessary stuff and drive our kids toward entitlement. But if we are intentional and thoughtful, we use it as a springboard to train our kids toward wisdom and contentment.

All we have to do as parents is draw this line in the sand: If we don’t need it, we won’t buy it.

smart money smart kids back to school