Wouldn’t it be great if our waistlines were as thin as a divorced mom’s back to school budget? We know. You have to stretch your dollars like worn-out Spandex and there are too many extra pounds of goods you still need.
However, we have some resourceful budget solutions that can help reduce your stress and help your kids look their best. They may actually learn something too.
Now before we give you this list, we hope that you have already looked in the kids’ closets and done a thorough inventory, just as you did on your assets prior to divorce. If something still fits, you don’t need a whole new wardrobe. One new outfit for their first day of school will deliver the most powerful emotional punch. Then you can wait for sales later in the month, either via internet or at stores. Remember, items are most expensive now.
1. With your child, make an itemized list of what s/he wants such as clothes, shoes, dress outfits, hobby or sports equipment, books, folders, writing utensils, backpacks and electronics such as computers.
2. Use this list as an opportunity to turn them into future Warren Buffets. Tell them what the dollar amount of their budget is and how they have to fit it to that number. Now if you kid says, “Mom, forget the spiral notebooks, I’d rather have Tory Burch flats,” tell them that school supplies have priority. However, if they find them at a cheaper place, then they will have more leftover for Tory.
3. Since kids not only exhaust you but also get tired after a day of shopping, be efficient in mapping out the places you will go. This will save time and headaches. If you are buying pants for Timmy at Target, have Megan – if she’s old enough - march down an aisle comparing the price for the book binders at this store in comparison to Staples, where you just went before. If you keep her occupied with the game of “Whose prices are cheaper?” then you can focus your attention on Timmy without impatient sibling temper tantrums and meltdowns.
4. Consider buying sports equipment at second-hand stores like Play It Again Sports. Or shop on eBay. Often you can save as much as 40%. Padding for lacrosse, hockey and football equipment is very costly for those without padded budgets. You’ll score touchdowns buying second-hand and the kids won’t notice the difference. (Schools often sell them at the end of year, so watch for these sales in future). However, take a pass on ever buying shoes second-hand. That you have to pay for.
5. If you need another computer and can’t afford it, consider renting one for a monthly fee. Many computer stores offer that service. You also might consider monthly payment plans — as long as the interest isn’t astronomical. Both of these are safer options than buying second-hand.
6. Reconsider buying clothes for “special occasions.” How often have I purchased dress shoes for my son that he wore only once when I really should have purchased two pairs of sneakers? Sneakers at Kohl’s or Nike come in black and can pitch hit for the few times he needs them.
7. Swap kids’ dress clothes with another divorced girlfriend. Do not be embarrassed to ask a friend – divorced or married – to borrow a fancy dress for Sophie to wear on Thanksgiving. You’ll be thankful that you didn’t spend $100 for the dress and only $10 for dry cleaning and a dried flower arrangement as a gift of thanks to your girlfriend.
8. Buy basic school supplies, but don’t go overboard. Wait until the teacher tells the kids what they really need. Pens in a rainbow of colors are not essentials, No. 2 pencils are. But buyer beware: Some of the items on every teachers’ list are merely recommended, not required. And with school supply costs higher than ever, it’s worth doing some educational research of your own to make sure you’re clear on the difference.
Last but not least, you have to detach yourself from worrying that little Tiffany will whine that Olivia, she of the two-parent household, has a new Juicy Couture blouse and she wants one too. You can also expect Jake to jump up and down protesting that you couldn’t afford the latest designer sneaker. (Promise he’ll get over it).
Civics lesson number one: There is a difference between need and desire. Divorced moms should not be as gullible as to be guilted into overextending when they can’t afford it.
Best strategy? Don’t cry that you can’t afford it. Explain that if you worked more hours, it would mean less time with them and less time to drive them to ballet class and basketball practice. You are making choices. To live a liberated life full of love and laughter. To be a parent who is inspirational.
You can also say, “Tiffany, I love you and wish I could buy you all the blouses you want, but right now I can’t and you have to choose one of these. So choose either this blue one or the floral one.”
Experts like us know that reducing their choices to one or two items empowers them and will shut them up momentarily. It makes them also feel less helpless over what they can’t do. Giving them the choice shows that they have one.
Later, you can also say that you named her Tiffany because with the great education she’s now getting, she can find a high-paying career to help her shop at Tiffany’s. Same for Jake.
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