3 Back-to-School Budget Lessons Every Kid Needs to Learn

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Today I am happy to welcome back my friend Cherie Lowe from the Queen of Free, who has graciously joined us here at LWSL as a regular monthly contributor.  Cherie is the author of the amazing book, Slaying the Debt Dragonwhich she wrote after paying off more than $127,000 in debt!  I am so excited to have her bringing her wealth of knowledge & experience on this subject to LWSL–please join me in making her feel right at home!

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3 Back to School Budget Lessons Every Kid Needs to Learn | School Shopping | Smart Money Tips | Back to School

This is a Guest Post from Cherie at Queen of Free

I have so many dreams for my two daughters. I pray they find passions in life to set their hearts ablaze. I long for them to see the wonders of the world and adventure to far off lands. I hope for a solid education, filled with great works of literature and challenging academic rigor to expand their knowledge base. I wish for both to learn how to love from the center of who they are, spreading joy and compassion with words and actions. And while it might not seem as whimsical or world changing on the surface, I aspire for my girls to have a solid understanding of money – to live on less than they make, be content with what they’ve been given, and realize that finances can be a blessing, not a curse.

During our journey of paying off $127K in debt, it was important for us to share with our daughters, Anna and Zoe, where we were at financially. We wanted to them to know not just why we were changing our lifestyle but how they could be an active part of our journey. Passing on lessons about managing money is one of the most important callings of parenthood. As our children transfer their dependence upon us to independence upon their faith and skill set, they mature into the people they’re meant to be.

On paper, all of the above sounds so noble and like a high aim. But what does that really look like in day-to-day life, in between soccer practice and piano lessons? How early do you begin teaching your kids about money? What’s over their head? How much is too much? Do you sit down and deliver a weekly lecture? Or do you just toss them into the deep end of managing their own resources and hope for the best?

My passion to equip parents to effectively pass on a healthy financial heritage to their children spilled on to the pages of Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After. More than anything, I wanted to share the many lessons we had learned while paying off debt, from how to throw your kid a birthday party and celebrate Christmas to the tricky territory of feeling guilty when you can’t afford to purchase from fundraisers. Key among our strategies to instill money wisdom in our girls is the back to school season.

With an onslaught of supplies to purchase, books to buy, and a wardrobe upgrade to ensure no dress codes are broken, a new academic year can be a stress on anyone’s budget. However, it also provides one of the best opportunities for you to begin shaping your child’s view of personal finance. Here are three life lessons you can teach through helping your child budget at back to school time.


 Needs Are Not the Same as Wants

The very best gift you could give your child is unconditional love. Instruction in what constitutes a need vs. a want comes in right behind that. Most of us recognize that it’s easy to exaggerate what we want, creating a false sense of need. Since most schools provide a list of exact supplies, it’s easy to compare and contrast in the aisles what we need and what we want.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to have wants. It’s ok to save for special purchases or long-term goals. But during the back to school shopping season, you can help your child begin process what it truly means to need something. One of the very best ways to introduce this idea is by taking an inventory of what you already have before you head to your favorite superstore to purchase items for the next year.

Take an afternoon to evaluate both clothing items and reusable school supplies. Make a record of what you already have and list what might need replaced. Talk about what is a need. Underwear in the right size with no holes? Need. New Hello Kitty lunch box when the one from last year is perfectly fine? Want.

Don’t forget that many items like scissors, rulers, backpacks, pencil boxes, and more will not need replaced every year. Thinking ahead before you hit the aisles will keep you from overspending and help your child realize what’s truly necessary and what’s just nice.

girl looking at clothes


 You Have to Make Choices in Life

Resources are limited. Unless you are sitting on a sizeable inheritance, you will need to make choices about what you can and can’t afford. And even if you can afford something, purchasing it might not be a wise choice. Clutter can multiple and leave us drowning in a sea of too many possessions. Whether you have a teen who desires every pair of cute jeans on the rack or a elementary student who insists on folders with each Avenger, you can help shape your child’s attitude toward money by helping them make judicious choices.

For most kids, it’s a good idea to present 2-4 options and help them narrow which items they will choose. Obviously, you’ll want to be sure that the required items are covered (see above comments on needs versus wants). But when it comes to deciding between clothing items or lunch boxes or notebooks covered in their favorite characters, begin to help your child refine what they love.

Even if you can afford all of the folders and all of the jeans, have your child choose one or two items and leave the others behind. You’ll begin to ingrain in them the ability to make choices and love what they purchase instead of fueling the insatiable desire to have it all.



 Budgets Make the World Go Round

Ever fantasize what you would do if you found $100 on the ground? It’s easy to spend the money of others. However, when that money is yours, decisions become more difficult to make. If your child is in upper elementary school through college, it may be time to help them hold the purse strings when it comes to back to school shopping.


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Determine a budget from prior year’s expenses and then allow your child to guide their own spending and if at all possible hold the physical cash in the store to pay for their items. You might even allow them to keep any leftover funds if they come in under budget.

This simple practice helps your son or daughter develop a sense of how much possessions cost and shifts the responsibility of managing money to them. If it’s his or her first experience budgeting, you must guide the process. Use the school’s list paired with your own personal inventory to create a list. Help them check off the list by choosing items wisely. Pull out a calculator or a phone to keep a running tally of your total expenses.

More than likely your child will be faced with the choice to buy one pair of name brand jeans or two pair of store brand. Or she may have to debate purchasing a plain lunch box instead of one with a character. A budget becomes the place where the rubber meets the road when you teach choice making and the difference between a want and a need.

You’ll never regret talking to your child too much about money. Just like you and me, our kids will make financial blunders. But it’s far better to help them pick up the pieces and make mistakes in their early years, guiding the decision making process and learning together than it is to come to the aid of young adults without a clue.

Back to school is one of your best opportunities to begin instilling personal finance wisdom into your child. Begin teaching them this fall and you might find out (like I do every year), that you learn a thing or two, too.

Cherie Lowe is an author, speaker and hope bringer. Her book Slaying the Debt Dragon details her family’s quest to eliminate over $127K in debt in just under four years. As her alter ego the Queen of Free, Cherie provides offbeat money saving tips and debt slaying inspiration on a daily basis.




3 Back to School Budget Lessons Every Kid Needs to Learn | School Shopping | Smart Money Tips | Back to School


  1. These are very important tips that even grown ups need to learn and remember. I especially like having kids make choices, and not grabbing everything that they want immediately. Being able to tolerate and appreciate delayed gratification is a skill that will help them for years.

  2. July 31 at 03:45PM

    I am grateful for you sharing this. It’s so important to allow our kids to appreciate the concept of “enough.” No matter what our income level, it’s a life lesson that will serve them well. We don’t know what their circumstances will be when they are adults. We can best prepare them to adapt to the future by teaching them the difference between needs and wants. It’s part of learning to become a responsible person.

  3. August 6 at 09:46AM

    Great points! We are a single income family and rely heavily on our budget. We have two little boys (ages 5 and 3) and have always been upfront about what is and is not on the budget. We give them choices but within reason.

  4. August 6 at 06:33PM

    It is one of the articles about parenting in money. I completely agree we need to teach the kids about money.
    We should start that lecture as early as possible. Management will not be talked in school. The benefit to live the life style with less. Th art of budgeting should be input to them as soon as possible.
    Glad that your kids are in good hands-Stella

  5. karen b
    August 10 at 03:44PM

    I have always looked for second hand clothing through out the year so we have never had to completely update our childrens wardrobe at one time. we have always allowed 1 new shirt for our boys & 1 new skirt & blouse for our daughter. (we only wear dresses/skirts here so that’s why she gets new skirt) or sometimes she has got a new dress. there is also a budget for what they can spend on there new outfit for the first day of school also. has been fun watching them decide what they really want 🙂 now one is out of school & the others are a senior & freshman

  6. Anonymous
    August 11 at 07:17PM

    Your children are in elementary school. Dont you think you ought to wait to teach them budgeting until they’re old enough to apply the information? It seems to me like you are forcing your children to grow up before their time

  7. Oralia M
    August 16 at 05:22PM

    Thank you so much for for your help and your advise and thank you to the other people who commented as well. I plan to put into practice some of the things they shared as well. Growing up, I never had the chance to learn about money management at all; therefore, when my older kids were growing, I didn’t teach them right as well. I have one small child left at home and although she is only six, I plan to start teaching her about the value of money. I think she is a smart child and will pick up quick! I wish someone would’ve thought me when I was a child; It would’ve saved me lots of headaches as an adult!

  8. March 8 at 10:14AM

    Thank you for this post, very good subject.

    I’m the lucky father of a daughter who is closing in on her second birthday. I’ve been interested in money and personal finance for a long time and think I understand a fair bit.

    That said, kids and money is completely new territory. When I grew up our family didn’t really have an abundance of… well, anything. And money was no exception. You know how people usually say “Money doesn’t grow on trees”? We heard that often, at least once a week.

    Even if money doesn’t grow on trees, that’s not the idea I want to give my daughter. I think it gives the wrong idea about money all together. I want my daughter to have an objective view on money, how it works, and how to be responsible with it, and also how you can loose it once you have it.

    Right now I’m reading most everything I can find on how to educate kids about money, because, let’s face it, the schools or other functions in society will not teach them anything but how to be great consumers. That’s, after all, the message we are struck with daily.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post, I enjoyed your views and thoughts!

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