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Set boundaries and involve the kids in setting your back-to-school budget: experts

OTTAWA — As kids head back to school this fall, household budgets will be tested as the cost of school supplies, new clothes and after-school activities pile up.

OTTAWA — As kids head back to school this fall, household budgets will be tested as the cost of school supplies, new clothes and after-school activities pile up.

Financial experts say families need to set a budget and make a plan to survive what can be an expensive time of year.

Laurie Campbell, director of client financial wellness at Bromwich + Smith, says involving your kids in the process can help teach them important lessons and learn the value of money.

"You have to make sure that you set clear boundaries with them about what you're willing to spend, what you're willing to spend on and to do an inventory of what they already have," Campbell says.

"You need to teach them to spend money wisely on what they do need and make sure that they steer away from all those other things that they don't."

Autumn might also bring the return of some things in your plan that might have been dropped last year.

A return to in-person school for some students may also mean a return to after-school care programs for parents who need to work beyond the end of the school day.

It may also see a return to more activities and sports for some children whose parents may have put them on hold last year due to the pandemic.

Campbell suggests limiting the number of activities both to control costs as sports like hockey can be expensive, but also to manage the time commitment

"Sit your child down and be realistic and say what is it that you really want to do for extracurricular activities. Let's really focus in on one or two because that way you can really commit the time to it, but also we'll have the financial means to make it happen," she says.

For school supplies, it is important to check to see what you already have before you start shopping. Students who started last year in-person, only to switch to remote learning, likely have school supplies that came home at the end of the year that may still be in good shape for this year.

New clothes though might be on the must-buy list for children after a summer growth spurt.

Carissa Lucreziano, vice-president of financial and investment advice at CIBC, said to check to see what you need and what you can reuse before you head to the mall.

"Take stock and inventory of what you have and then that's where you can fill in the gaps you know what are missing," she said.

Once you figure out what you need, whether it is new school supplies, clothes or skates, Lucreziano says it's important to do your research, keep track of your list and keep your budget up to date, especially if you are shopping both online and in stores.

"You have to think about your budget as a whole," she says. "Don't be impulsive."

Lucreziano also says to build in a buffer for emergencies or other unexpected costs during the school year.

"Things can come up during the school year," she says.

The return to school is also a reminder that if you haven't started a Registered Education Savings Plan, the sooner you get started, the better.

"You can start very small and grow that as your budget changes, but you know it is never too early," Lucreziano says.

"It's better to start as early as possible."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2021.

Craig Wong, The Canadian Press