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Today, I’m bringing in an expert to talk about back to school spending. During the pandemic, parents have much bigger concerns than buying lunchboxes and new shoes for their kids. In early August, the safety of children in the classroom was being questioned. But there’s a lot of financial stress out there as well, and some guidelines on back-to-school spending might be helpful.

Our guest is Robin Taub, author of Raising Money-Smart Kids: How to Teach Your Kids About Money While Learning a Few Things Yourself. Here’s an edited transcript of a Q&A we did by e-mail:

Open this photo in gallery:

Financial literacy consultant Robin Taub is a personal finance author. (Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail)Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Q: Robin, consumer spending is coming on strong as the lockdown of the economy eases. Do you see people spending heavily on back to school items this year, or taking it easy?

A: Rob, this crisis has been very stressful, on many levels, for families with school-aged children. Some spending may be strong now due to pent-up demand, but overall, I suspect back to school spending will be down from last year. Like most spending, it’s going to be about needs versus wants, but this year, those spending decisions will be made within the context of whether or not schools re-open and students attend in person. If kids are staying at home and learning remotely, do they really need a new backpack or lunchbox? Even spending on items like new clothes, if their kids have grown, will be less pressing than normal if they’re mostly at home. There may be more spending on items for a home study/work space, like a desk, chair or even a computer, and school supplies, if parents hadn’t bought these items when schools closed in the spring. I think parents will look for more ways to recycle, reuse and find secondhand items.

Q: What's a normal amount to budget for back-to-school expenses?

A: At least $250 per child, which would normally cover new clothes and shoes, supplies and school fees. That doesn’t include any big-ticket items like a cell phone or computer.

Q: I'm hearing about parents paying for supplemental e-learning or tutoring to help their kids - how big an extra financial burden does that put on parents?

A: Yes, and I’ve also read about families forming “learning pods” for their kids. Tutoring can start at $30-$40 an hour and go up from there, depending on the teacher’s qualifications and experience. That can add up fast! Parents may want to first see what kind of academic support their schools offer before spending extra on tutoring. They may also be saving money on extra-curricular programs that aren’t currently running and may choose to reallocate those funds to tutoring.

Q: Should parents ask kids receiving an allowance to chip in toward back-to-school costs?

A: That’s a decision every family has to make based on their personal financial circumstances. Many parents of teenagers who have jobs expect them to cover some of their own needs and wants. Keeping in mind it may be hard for them to have or find jobs right now, chipping in may not be realistic. However, they may also be spending less than normal because many things aren’t open, or open fully, and they’re staying home more.

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Ask Rob

Q: I need a financial planner. Does the size of the firm matter?

I’m looking at using a financial planner. I currently have about 70 per cent of my family’s RRSP/TFSA/RESPs at a robo-adviser and the other 30 per cent in stocks that I handle myself. The planner I’m looking at dealing with is essentially a one-man show. He took over his father’s business and they currently have one person in the office organizing and helping him and then himself as the only adviser/planner. He has won some awards in the past few years but should I be concerned that he’s a ‘small’ planner vs working with a larger investment/planning firm?

A: No, the size of the firm means nothing.

Assuming they provide financial planning and don’t sell investments, solo operators can be a perfectly good choice if they:

  • have accreditation like the Certified Financial Planner designation (CFP) or Registered Financial Planner (RFP).
  • are transparent about how they get paid and the likely cost of your plan, and flexible in tailoring their services to what you can afford
  • take the time to get to know you and don’t provide generic advice
  • address not just investments, but also debt, taxes, estate planning, insurance and more

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

The money-free zone

I listen to this song all the time on my running playlist and it’s my favourite summer tune ever – the Isley Brothers cover of Summer Breeze. The guitar at the end is the best.

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