Back To School


By: Katie Dunsworth

I love the invigoratingly fresh start that comes along with the beginning of the new school year. But for families with children starting school for the first time, September can mean added stress and unexpected expenses. Preparing your child for their first time at school – whether pre-school or kindergarten, doesn’t have to be overwhelming, however. Beginning school or starting back up after summer break can be a great time to implement smart spending strategies to set you family off on the right financial foot each year.

I believe a balanced school year and budget begins with the concept of refining. Last year when my daughter started junior kindergarten, I found it valuable to take a step back and set clear objectives that my whole family could get behind. Here are a few of my tips for a financially savvy September:

Save $300 by serving a litterless lunch
According to Health Canada, avoiding pre-packaged, processed foods reduces your child’s risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney disease. The majority of sodium found in the typical diet comes from processed food products, accounting for about 77% of Canadians’ total sodium. It’s important to integrate healthy eating habits into your child’s school routine and additionally, avoiding packaged foods can have cost savings. Packing a litterless lunch (water bottle, sandwich, yogurt, fruit) saves, on average, $300.00 per school year – in addition to ensuring your child is eating a nutrient-dense lunch.

As a first time school mom last year, I felt tempted to fall prey to the temptation of convenience snacks, but with a little planning and the right food storage options, it can be easy to provide your child with a healthy lunch to get them through the day. I find preparing a week worth of lunches in advance (I opt for Sunday nights) will keep you from buying unnecessary convenience lunches for your children.

Learn Music from a Pro for less
This time of year one of the biggest drains to our finances and free time can be enrollment in extracurricular activities. There’s a growing expectation to enroll children in a host of activities – from hockey, horseback riding, soccer and dance class – which can cost a small fortune and lead to a chaotic schedule before and after school. My advice – instead of signing your child up for every possible activity, start a dialogue surrounding some of the activities they show promise in and give a commitment to your child’s passion.

For example, if your child exhibits interest in music, organizations like the Vancouver Symphony School of Music are among the best kept secrets in the city. Not only are the instructors working at the VSO School of Music professional performing musicians, the school also offers classes starting at as little as $175 for an entire semester. In addition, the VSO School of Music offers special classes through their ColourStrings Program, designed for children as young as 3 months and up to 6 years, allowing children to integrate extracurricular activities into their routine even before they begin school and continue beyond.

Swap stuff for swag
Since younger children are continually growing and are generally disinterested in fashion, a new September wardrobe isn’t necessary. One alternative is to clear up the clutter in your own family’s closet by hosting a clothing swap with a group of families with children of similar ages. Consider using cash or trade unused items for something else you need.

If you do need to purchase new items for your child take stock of what they have from last season that will suffice, and consider supplementing their wardrobe initially in September then restocking in the new year once they’ve shot up another size to help spread out expenses over the year.

While we put emphasis on September as the month to got back to school, keep in mind that we have a full 12 months of opportunities to save ourselves money and stress. It’s about making small and mindful adjustments each day and understanding that the ultimate outcome is to enjoy life.

Bonus!  Enter code CSBABY2013 to get $55 off the registration fee for first time registrants of the ColourStrings programs at the VSO School of Music!

Katie is an author, media personality, entrepreneur and mother (in reverse order of importance). Just a few years ago Katie was hiding a dark financial past, full of shopping sprees and unpaid bills. After connecting with the other Smart Cookies, Katie committed to changing her ways by taking a no-nonsense approach to career and wealth. She is now an avid investor, in real estate, the stock market and new business opportunities.

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