Back to School for Co-Parents

August 22, 2022
Jackie Porter

Article written by Jackie Porter

For many parents, the lead up to September marks an expensive and hectic time of year. This is especially true as the cost of living reaches record highs and your back to school shopping list keeps getting longer. For separated couples in this uncertain economy, splitting school costs while avoiding money arguments may seem harder than ever. But don't worry, you aren't alone. If you are a parent trying to breach the back-to-school money talk with your ex, here are some helpful tips.

Do Your Homework:

While we understand you aren't the one going back to school, as parents you still have homework to do. In this case, all you have to do is get organized. Easier said than done, but we can help you with that.

In order to stave off money arguments with your ex, first take stock of what your children already have and what they still need. Have they outgrown some of their clothing from the past school year? What specific school supplies are they out of? You also don't want to forget those sneaky expenses that can creep up on you during the school year. This might include field trips, lunch money, sports related fees and other school activities. Once you determine what your children need, consider which of those expenses are covered under regular child support and which are not. This will be helpful in preparing for the money talk with your ex.

The more organized you are about what they have and what they need, the more likely you can have a rational conversation about the expenses associated with the upcoming school year. Getting organized early also gives you an opportunity to shop around for sales instead of waiting until the last minute. Now that you've finished your homework, let's move on to the next financial tip!

Create a Realistic Back-to-School Budget:

On average, parents spend about $300 per child on back-to-school costs. What about you? Do you know how much your expenses were last year? Did you use a budget and track how much you spent? In the past, did you use cash or did you have to go into debt to fund these costs?

If you don't know the answers to the above questions, it might be a good idea to review your bank statements from last year. Having a good understanding of your financial circumstances and net worth before starting on the back to school shopping spree might provide a moment of reflection.

Keep in mind school expenses can quickly increase when you add in big ticket items like a new iPad, or when buying high end name brands for your child. Ask yourself, how much of those expenses will your ex realistically cover? What have they paid for in the past? Have their financial circumstances changed? Can they afford to pay what they may have covered in the past? And most importantly, can you? Changing financial positions are nothing to be ashamed of. Being aware will help you make a realistic budget to make back to school shopping a breeze.

Make a Shopping List:

Lists are a great way to get yourself organized — especially when you have a long list of school supplies to buy. Provide your ex with a list of items your child will need for the upcoming school year ahead of your planned conversation. This gives them a chance to digest the information and ask questions. Your list should include items needed, approximate costs, and a review of places to buy the items, preferably on sale.

The list should also include a category for school activities and any other line items specific for your children. For example, perhaps your child attends additional activities during the school year not covered in the support agreement such as after school programs or after care for younger children. These items should be listed, and your partners share of these costs clearly outlined.

For post-secondary school, perhaps you have an RESP but the funds will only cover rent and school supplies. That means you and your ex will need to split the costs of the meal plan and other additional costs in the first year. The bottom line is, the more information you can provide ahead of time reduces the chances of your ex being surprised about the amount you’re expecting them to cover.

Get Your Children Involved

It’s never too early to start learning about money. Getting your children involved gives them the opportunity to understand what things cost and to learn how to prioritize. Help them help you to narrow down the list of needs and wants on the back-to-school list. Perhaps they are going off  to university and need to choose between a few basics or a name brand item everyone at school will be wearing. What is more important? Perhaps their extra sports fees mean less allowance and more brown bag lunches. Don’t underestimate the importance of helping your child learn these crucial financial lessons.

While this can be a crazy time of year for parents, hopefully these financial tips will help ease the transition as your kids head back to school.