Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, Back-to-School season strikes fear in the hearts of America. If you’re a parent, you may be afraid you can’t keep up with the latest styles and gadgets. If you are a teacher, you’re scurrying around trying to find the best deals possible in order to supply your classroom. It’s easy to put yourself in financial peril doing these things. In teaching financial fitness to students, I’ve had to take a long, hard look at myself.
The last few years, I’ve said, “No more!” As a mom, I’m going to be reasonable about my son’s back to school needs. As a teacher, I’m no longer shopping to supply my classroom.
I came to education from Corporate America. I have fond memories of visiting a supply cabinet for a pencil, pen, or anything I wanted. Tape? No problem. Scissors? Got you covered! When I wanted things to do my job, they were just there. Magic! So should it be with schools.
Parents, you’ll get pressured into buying the latest and greatest. Give in, and you’ll be cashing in your savings. Instead, go through your child’s drawers and see what they really need. Fill in the holes on your shopping trip but make sure they know you’re not replacing the entire, still-good wardrobe like it’s Fashion Avenue. Get in that habit early on to avoid the pressure that comes with being a parent of teens, when the prices get uglier than the fashion. Caving to pressure means your bank account goes down with you.
For teachers, you know there’s always a student without notebooks, pens, pencils, and supplies. You run around buying the sale stuff, filling boxes, knowing it’ll bail a student out in the end. If you never pass up the five-cents limit 50 offer, you’re heading for disaster. Note this–every dime adds up in the end, or subtracts from your bottom line. Watch it if you want to stay in the black!
Buying the doorbusters or clothes here and there on impulse adds up. There’s a reason stores advertise those specials and place them in strategic places throughout the store. They know teachers and parents are weak this time of year.
When you impulse buy and don’t read your credit card statement or add up your receipts you’ll spend more than you planned. I spent years buying things for the classroom and not paying attention to my statements and slips. When I finally woke up and smelled the coffee, the debt I incurred for the privilege of doing my job was immense. You, too, can rack up some serious debt by not paying attention.
If you’re a teacher, you know this feeling. You’ll do “just one more thing” for your students. We can’t do everything, nor can we help each student by spending our way into debt. If you do this, you’re putting your financial future in peril. As a parent, you may overextend your budget wanting to give your kids that head start. As a teacher, there’s the desire to save every last kid. If you examine what kids really need to be successful, a loving environment, you’ll find that to be free.
“Do I really need to buy this?” Sometimes, parents, you get ridiculous supply lists from schools. Question these lists. If the items don’t make sense, hold off on the purchase and see if the teacher asks for the item, or give a quick call to the teacher or the school.
As a teacher, you may not need to buy things. I get excited by deals in stores for things I know I’ll need, but if I dig deep enough, there’s often money in a fund or department budget for those purposes. Be creative–do you have a rainy day fund or special needs budget? Sometimes, “Ask and you shall receive” works in schools, even when they are trying to save money. Failing to research what you really need and where you might be able to get it will help you go broke.
Save all your slips and mark them “school supplies,” and put them in a file for tax time. The IRS allows for a deduction for education supplies. It’s a paltry $250, small change next to what you probably are in the habit of spending for your classroom, but failing to keep track of the expenses means you won’t take this deduction.
You might think it’s insignificant, but every little bit helps. As a parent, you probably know some of your childcare or expenses may be tax deductible even if the back to school crayons aren’t. Make sure you keep records of everything that can possibly help you in the end.
In the end, if you’re a teacher, you are there to teach and not to spend your paycheck on your job. If you’re a parent, you don’t get off quite that easy–it is your job to spend your paycheck on your child. But don’t fall into the trap of peer pressure and making excessive purchases. Set boundaries, and stick to them. Two months into the school year, they’ll be too busy to notice if I’m doing my job. If you’re a parent and a teacher, pay extra attention so the financial world doesn’t sneak up on you from behind this season. Awareness of your spending habits is the first step.
Save some money this season. When you do, splurge just a bit. Go out and buy yourself a nice, big cup of coffee to celebrate. If you’ve saved enough, you might just want to make it a double!