https://www.thestar.com/business/personal_finance/2022/08/15/back-to-school-season-returns-lets-try-shopping-a-little-differently-this-time.html

This is the school year of catching up with learning, relationships, physical health and mental wellness so that our kids shift from not being all right to being OK after the impacts of the pandemic.

So here’s what I’m thinking — what if we, as parents, spent our back-to-school budgets in a way that targets the pillars of total wellness for our kids. Rather than shop via the latest back-to-school trends, you’d shop based on what will help your child thrive physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, intellectually, environmentally and financially.

Let’s dig in with some examples of how this would work … and yes, I have tips on how to save, too.

Physical wellness

Getting active is core to your child’s overall wellness. Do they have a good pair of runners and comfy clothes to exercise in? Much of this can be purchased on sale and hand-me-downs from family, neighbours and friends are making a huge comeback. Would your child benefit from seeing a nutritionist, dermatologist or physiotherapist (many benefit plans cover these costs, BTW)? Are they keen to participate in paid team sports? Do they need braces or other dental treatments? Is their bedroom conducive to getting a solid sleep each night? Are you setting a good example of taking care of your physical health at home? Target resources on essentials first, and then see if you can work other costs into your budget throughout the course of the year. If there are medical costs not covered by insurance, you may be eligible for the medical tax credit, so keep your receipts. And don’t forget to account for often overlooked physical wellness expenses like haircuts.

Emotional, spiritual and social wellness

This is about developing healthy self-esteem and a sense of belonging as your child forms connections with others and with themself this school year. Would your child benefit from seeing a psychologist or self-esteem coach? Are there specific social outings or requests for paid activities your child has that would help them form stronger social connections? There are plenty of free and low-to-no-cost group activities for kids these days so check your municipality’s website. Do they have enough time each day for reflection? Might they need a journal? Would they benefit from being enrolled in fewer extracurricular activities? The costs in this category can vary widely, but do your best to understand the needs of your child and family, and then prioritize what’s most important. And, for mental health services, Google search ‘subsidized mental health programs for kids.’

Intellectual wellness

Books, laptops, tablets, calculators, notebooks, pens and pencils. What’s on the supply list? When is it needed (because you might be able to space out purchases if you don’t need it right away)? Are there bursaries, grants or scholarships for any of it? Does your child require special support through tutoring privately or through the school system? Focus resources on the tools and resources your child needs to do well at school … not on the fanciest technology or most bedazzled backpack. Before you shop, inventory the supplies you already have and do a tech check on whether your computer and software can do what is required this upcoming school year. Price compare, use coupons and buy what’s on sale. Use swap and sell sites to get rid of what you no longer need and replace with this year’s requirements. And, did you know you can save a bundle by purchasing supplies at the end of September or beginning of October? Maybe you can use up what you have for the first month and shop later this fall.

Environmental wellness

This is about the physical environment that your child learns in. There’s not much you can do about the classroom setup, but your home learning environment is 100 per cent within your control. Does your child have a quiet and comfortable space for homework and reading? Is the lighting sufficient? Will they require a desk or chair? Are there blinds required on the windows? Is there enough room for you to support your child when they need help? Would a monitor help with focus? How is the air quality? The idea here is to focus resources on a healthy at-home learning environment. Most items like tables and chairs can be purchased on sale or second-hand. And, before you buy, check what you already have in the house or borrow from a friend.

Financial wellness

Children start forming an understanding of money matters starting at the age of three. So, if it feels too soon to incorporate financial literacy into your family’s value system, it’s not. For younger children, start them out with an allowance — say $1 for each year of their age (eg. $6 a week for a six-year-old). Open a savings account and have them save a portion of their allowance. Teach them about how prices work at the grocery store. And allow them to host their own ‘garage sale.’ For older children, encourage them to work part-time and manage a basic budget, which means they should be responsible for some costs like paying a cellphone bill. There are great money books, games and blogs that your kids will love getting into. Perhaps hold off on another scooter and focus your time and resources on helping them learn to save for the future.

“Aren’t you supposed to give me a specific budget amount, Lesley-Anne?” you might be thinking.

The answer is that this year, I don’t think that makes sense. Instead, target the resources you have in your budget for back-to-school on what’s going to make your kid(s) healthy … and steer clear of any unnecessary debt. Debt will distract you from showing up to support your kids as best as you can.

Lesley-Anne Scorgie is a Toronto-based personal finance columnist and a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @lesleyscorgie