By Urjit Patel, Executive VP of Consumer Banking at Axiom Bank, Maitland
August is here, and Florida schools are preparing to welcome students back into classrooms while some families are preparing to continue learning from home. But even as stores market back-to-school deals – on items from whiteboard markers to webcams – things certainly are not back to normal.
Nearly 9 in 10 Americans experienced financial stress this past spring, according to a survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education – and while there are some promising signs for the economy, recovery will take time. In addition to concerns about keeping children safe and well at school, parents may be worried about job security, bills and having money set aside for emergencies.
No matter what back-to-school season has in store for your family, a budget can help put some of your worries to rest. It’s also an opportunity to pass on valuable financial lessons to your kids. Here are three lessons worth sharing:
- Budget before you buy. There’s no better time to acquaint your children with the fundamentals of budgeting than back-to-school season. Although they may not appreciate the value of mortgage payments, college savings or utility bills, even youngsters can understand the difference between needs (a $5 notebook) and wants (a $12 SpongeBob notebook).To demonstrate the bigger picture, use a visual – like a pie chart or a stack of quarters. Then explain how you allocate income among necessities (like rent, utilities, groceries or insurance), savings (for college or retirement), and everyday spending. Go through the items on your shopping list and work together to set a spending limit.
- Shop your closets – or secondhand. Most school supplies have a shelf life of more than one year. Go back through last year’s colored pencils, erasers, clothes, backpacks and so on. Could you refresh that backpack with a quick wash? Sharpen those pencils? Set aside those shoes for a younger sibling to grow into? Expensive items, like scientific calculators, clothes, shoes and office furniture, can be much cheaper at thrift stores.The adage “a penny saved is a penny earned” is a good way to introduce the concept of saving and sticking to your budget. Let’s say your daughter really wants a new set of colored pencils, but also wants a purple backpack that costs $15. Explain that sharpening the pencils you already have would save about a dollar – then, after she sharpens the pencils, give her a dollar to put in a piggy bank to save for something else she may want later.
- Shop strategically. After several months of empty aisles, retailers will want to lure you back into the shopping spirit with deals on back-to-school “necessities.” But you may not need to buy everything at once. Research prices in advance, carry a list and set a strict dollar limit that you won’t exceed in the store. If you plan to do your shopping online, consider mastering digital couponing for extra savings.
We still have a long way to go before anything, even back-to-school, is back to normal. But careful budgeting can give us a little more control over the uncertainty in our lives – and that’s a lesson we can all put into practice.
Urjit Patel is the Executive Vice President of Consumer Banking at Axiom Bank, N.A., a nationally chartered community bank headquartered in Maitland. He can be reached at email@example.com.