The Back to School Craze
by Roseanna M. White
You can’t turn on the TV, the radio, open a newspaper, or step foot in a store without seeing it: Back to School! Come get your flash deals, best deals, hot deals—only for a limited time. We’re bombarded with ads about backpacks and cargo pants, dresses and shoes and notebooks. Everything your kid could need to start another year of school.
And of course, the ads all imply that those things are what will make the school year good. Make your kids popular. Give them that edge of cool that everyone longs for. We know, as we watch and read, that it’s all just marketing ploys…and yet, we head to the stores. Because let’s face it—school shopping is necessary.
How’s a parent, surrounded by this sea of merchandise, to know how much is too much and where to draw the lines? The kids need new jeans—should we buy them the brand they beg for or something less pricey? Which backpack? What about shoes? The lists grow quickly. And the bank account feels it.
A lot of parents today feel this as an obligation. We must buy all this stuff—right? And to some of it, the answer is definitely “yes.” There are needs. But we can’t always differentiate between the needs and the wants—and it’s not just the kids who have this problem.
Most people think, for instance, that a first day of school outfit is a must. But is that important to your kids…or to you? Would your son be just as happy in his favorite jeans? Does your little girl want to wear that “best friend” t-shirt instead of the stylish top you picked out? Sometimes the wisest step we can take in budgeting is pausing to listen to those we’re buying for—do they want a new backpack, or do they still love last year’s? Do they need a brand-new outfit, or do they love that one they’ve been wearing all summer? How many pencils do you still have lying around the house? Before you buy new, take stock. You can even make a point of saving last year’s leftovers for this year’s use.
Of course, other times, the kids are convinced they need this new item. And it’s usually an expensive one. I remember being there as a pre-teen, desperate for that lifetime-warranty backpack. My mother, being a brilliant woman, made me a deal: she’d buy it for me, but then that was it. It had a lifetime warranty, and I’d carry it until it wore out. (Boy, was I glad to retire that thing…after college!) I took her lesson to heart though. Sometimes an expensive purchase is worthwhile—so long as the kids know from the get-go that they’ll be using it for a long time.
The best thing parents and kids can do though is strip away the expectations. We’ve been told for so many years what we need to buy that we rarely stop to question whether we really need it…or just want it. If your kids are still young, you might find that you’re the one pushing for the new stuff. Not them. If so, pause and give it some thought. If you buy now what they don’t really need, how are you going to stand your ground with them in later years when they swear they need what you don’t want to buy? We get to set the patterns in our kids’ lives. It’s a responsibility many of us don’t take seriously enough, and then later we regret how we handled it.
In my house, things are a bit different. We homeschool, so our expenses are skewed more toward curriculum than clothes and accessories. But even in the homeschool environment, I realized that I was bringing old expectations along on the shopping trips. I thought they needed new supplies every year—I thought they wanted them. Had I gone to the store on my own, I would have come home with new binders, new notebooks, new paper, new pencils, new erasers, etc. But when my kids walked down those aisles, they didn’t want all of that. They wanted to pick out a new pack of pencils. And they wanted to refill their old binders. We had to replace old notebooks that had filled up, but that was it. Their choices to reuse not only saved me quite a bit of money, they taught me a lesson.
My kids didn’t want until I told them to. They didn’t demand until I led them to believe they were entitled to something new. They didn’t want the best until I implied that their old thing wasn’t good enough. But if I can stop thinking the way I do…how might that effect much bigger things for them later in life?
The expectations we bring to our spending are generations old. From the grandparents or great-grandparents barely scraping by in the Depression, we learned to want more for our kids than what we had. But as “more” kept growing, we’ve turned into a society where “too much” is just the norm. Where will that leave the next generation, if we don’t check it?
I’m not tackling the national debt…but we can start with plain old erasers. We can teach our kids to put value on each little thing, and then they’ll better understand the big ones. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll grow up knowing something it took the rest of us thirty years to figure out.
Roseanna M. White is the author of ten historical novels, including The Lost Heiress that releases in September. When she isn’t writing or editing, she’s homeschooling her kids or designing book covers from her home in West Virginia. www.RoseannaMWhite.com
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