Parenting Survival Rule # 5- Handling Financial Stress
How appropriate that we finish the series with talking about the financial stress of back to school. Every year, I am taken back by the magnitude of needs to just go to school. Clothes, shoes, backpacks, supplies, and that’s just the needs of an elementary level student. Depending on what you have determined as the best situation for your family, you could be adding tuition costs, school fees, lunch, computers…. The list could go on and on. When I think about all of the financial obligations of back to school, I personally am only thinking in terms of one child. As the parent of an only child, I have one to feed, clothe, and furnish for his success. Many of you have 2, 3, or more! This means financial planning is a yearlong process. There are two ways to tackle this struggle: proactively or reactively. If you are normal, you fall into the reactive category. Welcome to the majority! Living paycheck to paycheck is the norm for most families no matter how big your paycheck. One day, while trying to talk about money, I asked my husband why did we have a household income triple what it was just 10 years ago, but felt so rich then and so poor now. My husband, with his minimalist verbal response (this is how we communicate: I use 1000 words to ask one question, and he responds with a range of 3 words to a gesture or grunt) picked up his arm and pointed in the direction of our son’s room. And just like that, I knew what he was doing. Sure we had bought a bigger house and nice vehicles, but nothing extravagant. We still valued vacations, but it’s not like we went to Bora Bora, we just went to the Redneck Rivera every summer (Gulf Shores, AL). The shift in our ability to splurge and to spend money without worry was twofold but both are about our son. There is the whole responsibility part of wanting to make sure we didn’t jeopardize his security, but the bigger piece was how expensive it was to have a child. Between everything he actually needs, to the areas where we allow for more luxury things that he wants, our son was the one investment that had no financial return back into our home. So let’s go back to the idea of planning reactively and proactively. It is harder and needs more discipline to plan proactively for the financial needs of the family. This does not include the unexpected, even though planning your savings for this is recommended. What I am talking about is the expenses that fall within the normal routine and expectations. Finances are the #2 reason couples divorce. This is an enormous stressor for families and can create problems that permeate all areas of the relationship. What if you could plan for this in a way that was less stressful and more expected? I am in no way a financial advisor, but I am a life advisor. Being proactive financially for your family’s back to school needs must incorporate the following:
- Communication – You can’t let fear or anxiety steer you away from this subject. Communicate with your spouse what the full budget is and then communicate with your children what they can expect before going to the store.
- Make a Budget- I know this feels simple and basic, but it is the first way that overspending occurs.
- Choose What is Important and Expensive first – a budget can be blown on binders, pens, Ugg boots, Under Armor, and all of the things that are negotiable. Start with the necessities that cost the most and work your budget backwards. This is the easiest way to not blow your finances from the beginning.
- Just Say No – Thank you again First Lady Reagan for this slogan! It is alright to tell our children no to certain things. If you are not able to afford $200 boots, $200 jeans, $2000 MacBooks, guess what, they will be ok. Their worth is not tied to material things, and they should not get the mixed message that it determines who they are.
By the time you are reading this post, you are probably shopped up and shopped out, but what a perfect time to begin with next year in mind. Start now, put up $20 when you can, plan for $100 a month or whatever your budget needs, and next school year, whatever is not spent on Back-To-School can roll over into Christmas gifts, fun family night out, or even a Vacation fund.
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