Back to School Financial Literacy Tips for Parents and Kids

Toward the end of summer, your regular annual trip to the mall – or wherever you conduct your back-to-school shopping – offers an excellent opportunity to open a conversation with your kids about money, show them how overspending can happen, and turn them into bargain shoppers. Back-to-school shopping offers a teachable moment when kids can learn key money management skills, including budgeting, living within one’s means, prioritizing spending, understanding the value of various items, and price comparison shopping.

Problem Section

Today, kids have more temptations than we did at their age. They’re inundated from birth with advertising messages saying “buy, buy, buy!” A typical child has seen more than a million ads by age 21. To counteract this conditioning, it’s essential to teach kids personal finance lessons.

Financial habits form early. We should begin teaching lessons about personal finances when kids are young. If they’re already teens now, that’s OK – getting professional-level training before they move out on their own is critical. Practical, relatable lessons help establish an educational foundation that supports continued financial education as they mature.

Section 1: Planning

  • Together, create a list of back-to-school items they need. Or have the list primarily written, but leave some space available for children to add items to the list. For young children, leave off something important, like “crayons,” and give the child hints as to what is needed on the list (leading them to “crayons”).
  • Before going out to shop, go through advertisements to estimate how much your family will need to spend for each item on the list.

Section 2: Discussion

  • Discuss ways to save money, such as using coupons, sales, or shopping at discount stores.
  • Brainstorm creative ways to save money. For example, shop at second-hand or outlet stores, find deals online, or do a neighborhood clothing trade.
  • Discuss ways you might overspend, such as impulse buying or choosing high-end brand name products.

Section 3: Post-shopping Discussion

  • After the back-to-school shopping trip, review the receipts. Did your family come in under budget, at budget, or over budget? Why?
  • Each child could be responsible for researching one particular item on their back-to-school list. They can do quality analyses and compare sales ads if available. If they track prices, they can become great bargain hunters.
  • Kids can go find the item they researched in the store and do a price comparison between brands and stores.