Tips for Navigating Back-to-School Financial Stress

by Craig Fryzuk, CIRP, LIT
September 21, 2022

All across the country, students are starting a new school year this month. Smiling, eager teachers are greeting them at the doors. There’s no doubt, September is a time of exciting transitions for many—and after lazy summer days, getting back into a routine at home and school can be a comforting thought.

However, it can also be a stressful time as many navigate the minefield of back-to-school costs. A Stressed By The Bell survey, conducted by the team of Licensed Insolvency Trustees at Bromwich+Smith last month, found that 65% of Canadian parents and students are worried about the effect of inflation on back-to-school costs.

The bills can quickly mount: transportation, school supplies, and new clothes because last year’s gym shoes don’t fit anymore. As record inflation and rising food costs flash across our screens, hauling out the lunchboxes this year may fill us with more dread than usual. And we know it won’t be long until crumpled-up field trip forms start coming home in backpacks, each with a looming payment date.

University students have a long list of worries too, like housing costs, utilities, transportation, textbooks, and exorbitant tuition fees. Not to mention what they’ll likely spend in the cafeteria, at the grocery store and at local restaurants.

These costs can have a real impact on our mental health and our bank accounts. But there are ways to manage the back-to-school burden.

Here are a few helpful tips to keep your financial health intact. 

Reach out

The resources and assistance are there for us when we need them, but we have to take the first step and reach out. One first step would be to call the school administration team if you’re feeling the pressure and see what arrangements can be made. Policies are in place, though not well advertised, to relieve some of the financial burden for families. And many colleges and universities offer student assistance programs and various forms of financial aid. 

Government grants for college students are more accessible this year, too. The Government of Canada website states that students are able to use their current year’s income (instead of the previous year’s income) to determine their eligibility for a student grant. This is encouraging news for students who may be struggling to pay their bills.

Needs vs. wants

Basic needs like food, shelter and clothing are one thing. But designer clothes, spring break trips and ballet lessons are not. According to a recent survey, 56% of Canadian parents and students are using this time to teach themselves and their children about money and budgeting.

Download a budgeting worksheet and calculate how much money you have for school spending. Tough conversations about money with your kids are never easy, but they might be necessary. Maybe your family stays home this year for spring break, and your 8-year-old plays with friends in your backyard so that your family doesn’t have to take on any debt. We have to get honest with our financial realities because drowning in debt due to hockey fees and dance recitals isn’t worth the stress and financial instability.

Shop around and shop early

It’s always going to be easier to grab the first option you see on store shelves. We understand. Your free time is limited, and your schedule is already filling up with family commitments. But shopping around can make a real impact on your back-to-school spending. And don’t forget to shop at home first! There are probably pens, calculators, paper and notebooks left over from prior years and just waiting to be put into action. 

You could check prices online before making a decision, buy second hand clothes, hit the dollar store for stationery and spread your purchases out over the year instead of buying all of your child’s supplies in September. Buy in bulk, and split the cost with other moms and dads you know.

Remember, there is assistance available.  You just need to take the first step and reach out.

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