Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Finding the teachable moment in back-to-school shopping

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Aug. 19, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell Oh, how I dread the appearance of those back-to-school sales hammering home the message that summer is almost over and I better start buying now. It’s not the sales that make me blue; I love buying cheap. It’s that over the years, the fun has gone out of school shopping.

Endearing moments of buying a kindergartner’s backpack have given way to arguments over shirts sliding up and pants riding down. Instead of tossing packets of brightly colored fat markers in the cart, I’m staring in horror at the cost of graphing calculators. And it seems harder and harder to draw the line between what we need and what we want.

American children are targeted by $12 billion worth of advertising and marketing annually. They spend over $166 billion a year – and directly influence $250 billion worth of their parents’ spending by requesting or demanding things. The danger in this scenario is that our kids begin to believe their self-worth is based on what they buy.

Maybe I dread school shopping because it’s so much more than a trip to the store. It’s raising kids to see beyond the prevailing culture — no easy job.

“Last year I was lucky,” says Angela. “My teenage daughter asked me to take her to Value Village and she bought all the clothes she needed for less than $20. This year, her tastes have changed. She wants the latest fashions and she wants to shop at the mall. She has her own money from babysitting, so that’s good, but it does bother me to see her starting these kinds of spending habits.”

“For me, the problem is shoes,” says Lisa. “My boys wear uniforms to school so clothing isn’t a big issue. But, boy, do they want expensive shoes. One wants the latest basketball shoes, the other wants skateboard shoes.”

I asked parents for advice on back-to-school spending issues. Here are some tips.

Your example as parents will speak the loudest. Teens naturally want to break out and try new ways of being, but in the long run, the way you spend your money will be a strong influence on their spending habits.

Set limits. Tell your children how much you’re willing to spend. If they want something more expensive, they can pay for it themselves.

Help your child decide how to allocate her income between saving, sharing and spending. A specific long-term goal makes saving easier. Children will feel more generous if they choose to whom they’ll to donate their money. Help them check out charities to make sure they are legitimate. Encourage kids to stick to their budget by setting aside savings and charitable giving first. What’s left is for spending.

Use a shopping trip as a practical lesson in value. For instance, compare different products and explain how you might pay more for something that is well made and will last, but that you won’t spend extra simply for a fad or name brand.

Youngsters may not yet understand that there is always something new, always a later style, always something “just out.” We can’t have it all, and it’s never too soon to start learning to choose judiciously. Experience is often the best teacher. If a child spends his whole allowance in one day, and can’t buy anything for a month, he’ll probably be more prudent the next time he has money to spend.

To help your children escape the pressure to shop and spend, turn off the television and computer. Do activities that promote your values.

Cultivate an overall attitude of gratitude in your family. Everything we have is gift from God — from our health, to our home, to our money — even our pencils and school clothes. Being grateful means more than remembering a daily prayer of thanksgiving. It means stewardship, remaining accountable for the good use of all things given to us. Appreciating what we have, as well as not hoarding more than we need.

I feel better already. Talking to other parents and thinking ahead about strategy gave me energy and confidence to face back-to-school shopping. Now where did I put those sale flyers?

© 2004, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)

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