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Back to School: What if Being an “Imperfect” Parent Saved You Money?

August 19, 2020

For a mysterious reason, back to school can make most parents want to reach perfection in terms of parenthood. Because this time represents a new beginning, it’s tempting to reorganize the whole house for the upcoming year, and even the calmest parents end up with increased stress levels. 

This strange phenomenon manifests in small things. Meticulously labelling each pen and its cap using an assortment of labels reflecting your child’s personality. Feeling the pressure of preparing balanced meals that are also whimsical (e.g. a simple sandwich becomes a cute, smiling panda) 5 days a week. Updating your teenage son’s entire wardrobe, even though he’ll keep switching back and forth between his two favourite t-shirts.

What if, this year, to give both your wallet and mind a break, you gave yourself the right to be somewhat of an imperfect parent?

School Lunches: Reduce

Zero waste is all the rage, and that’s for the best! From an environmental and family budget point of view, it makes sense to swap disposable bags and single-serve packages for durable containers and bulk. But be careful not to overdo it: buying quality zero waste products can be quite expensive, which is normal since they will easily last the whole school year. Rest assured, you don’t need a plethora of containers in various sizes and shapes to be zero waste. With a few carefully selected basics and the gems hidden away in your cupboards, you can easily experiment with more eco-friendly school lunches.

Psst! If the thought of having to prepare zero waste lunches increases your mental load, remember that “almost zero waste” and “less waste” options are just as commendable. Every step in the right direction counts, especially when done serenely.

School Supplies List: Cheat (A Little)

One of the best-kept secrets among seasoned parents is that, while remaining reasonable, you’re totally allowed to stray from the supplies list provided by your child’s school. You only have 3 red pocket folders left but the list specifies you need a green one? You’re allowed to ask yourself if your child really needs that colour to succeed. If your daughter is in Grade 1 or 2 and you know she has trouble staying organized in class, the colour of her supplies will of course help her follow her teacher’s instructions. But odds are your fifth-grader will have no trouble following. Same goes for the calculator brand recommended by the school, the number of backup items “just in case,” and the specific edition of the Collins dictionary requested. If you already have items in good condition and using them won’t hinder the good functioning of the class, don’t feel obligated to buy everything again to comply with the list.    

You ran out of personalized labels to put on each of the 24 colouring pencils for your aspiring artist? The good old method parents used back in 1989 still works: writing directly on the pencil with a marker. Ta-da!

Extracurricular Activities: Simplify

Extracurricular activities are great for developing your children’s talents and varying their interests. Music, science, sports, culture: there’s something for everyone. At the beginning of the school year, parents are full of good intentions and energy and are tempted to enroll their kids in heaps of activities. But this quickly becomes too much for their wallet… and their family schedule. By being more selective with extracurricular activities, you can relieve both.    

If you reduce to a minimum the obligations in your children’s schedule outside of school, you’ll get the freedom to rediscover what’s offered in your neighbourhood and region. Often, families are unaware of tons of free and affordable activities and resources available to them. Public libraries, hiking trails, cultural spaces, leisure centres, pools and sports facilities: if you dig around a little, you’ll make great discoveries! 

Rewards and Gifts: Save

The school year is full of small victories, and celebrating these helps strengthen your child’s self-esteem. For such occasions, have you thought of offering a meaningful gift rather than a material one? Money for your child’s education, for instance…

Consider yourself warned: you won’t be the coolest parent in your street by rewarding your son with money for school rather than the latest trendy knick-knack. At least not right away. But he will certainly change his mind when he's able to enroll in the post-secondary program of his dreams without any financial worries. Or when he can afford his own apartment (far away from you!) and have the privilege to focus entirely on obtaining his diploma.

When it comes to saving for post-secondary education, we are of course a little biased toward the RESP! After all, it’s the only investment vehicle that provides access to such generous government grants. You have other options to set money aside: a TFSA, your little one’s bank account or even a piggy bank. Although these don’t allow you to receive money from the government like the RESP, it’s still a step in the right direction! It’s important to plan for these upcoming back to schools… which will be much more expensive!

Or Not…

Maybe for you, financial stress management and peace of mind come with methodically organizing lunches, and you might love shopping for your children’s school supplies: that’s awesome too! For back to school as well as for the rest of the year, be the parent you want to be: calm, super organized, bohemian, spontaneous… or a little bit of everything!