Family gathered around kitchen island discussing family expenses on a tablet
Personal Finance

 3 tips to get family finances back on track

This back to school season, get the kids on schedule, while teaching them—and reminding yourself—about money management

Family gathered around kitchen island discussing family expenses on a tabletGet the kids involved in family financial planning by helping them build a budget for their back-to-school items. It’s quality family time and a money management lesson all in one. (Getty Images/Hoxton/Paul Bradbury)

Back to school isn’t just about getting the kids back on track, but your family finances too. After that summer spending spree, it’s time to rein things in, while accommodating any new expenses.

“Over the summer, budgets tend to slide,” says CPA Andrew Jeffery, senior associate with Northwood Family Office, who recommends a financial health check at least twice a year. “As we enter the school year, it’s a good time to do so.”

Here are three tips to do just that.


When revising your budget, Jeffery recommends looking back at receipts and financial statements to see your family’s spending pattern. Then account for any new expenses (think school supplies, clothing and extracurriculars).

“Seeing what the numbers looked like is a much better way to prepare the budget you are going into,” he says. Make an inventory of your assets versus your liabilities, including any debt incurred, he suggests. “That way, you have a good sense of where those are at [as well].”

While you’re at it, with the holidays around the corner, factor this spending into your budget as well to avoid future liabilities. “It takes a bit of fiscal constraint to get there, but what you are doing is setting aside money for the future…it’s worth the effort,” says Rona Birenbaum, a certified financial planner and founder of Caring for Clients.

Jeffery also stresses the importance of an emergency fund for any big-ticket items that pop up, such as car or home repairs. This stash of cash may also come in handy for unanticipated dole outs such as monetary requests from the kids, necessary travel or nice-to-haves you’d otherwise have to finance by dipping into debt.

“It’s not always realistic, but best practice is to try to have three to six months’ worth of expenses in an account for these types of emergencies,” he says.


If your budget allows, maximize the registered education savings plan (RESP) contributions that you have set up for your children to be eligible for government matching through the Canada Education Savings Grant. You can receive 20 per cent, or a maximum $600 government grant, per year, dependent on your income. Catch is, you must contribute $2,500 a year, or just over $208 per month, to qualify. Lower income families can also qualify for the Canada Learning Bond.

Those with children attending post-secondary school in September should be aware of the rules when withdrawing from a RESP, reminds Jeffery. Collect and complete any necessary documentation, understand how funds will be released and remember withdrawals, qualifying as educational assistance payments, are taxable to the student. Tax on the income can also be offset with tuition tax credits, he adds. Refunds of RESP contributions, on the other hand, are non-taxable.

“It’s just making sure you are aware of all the subtleties of the account and making sure you have administration in order so you can get the money out as quickly as possible,” says Jeffery.

For additional savings, look into research grants or scholarships, provincial or national, for which your child may be eligible in order to offset tuition costs.

If you’re now an empty nester, Jeffery adds, while adjusting to a quiet house and new purpose, consider this a prime time to reinvest in yourself and your financial future.

“It’s definitely a transition period,” he says. “The education expenses are still there…but your expenses, at least day-to-day, will likely go down. Depending on whether the kids come back after they graduate, you will have an opportunity to focus more on yourselves and plan for your retirement.”


Finally, bring financial planning into your day-to-day. Gather around the dining room table and check off two to-dos: kids get their homework done, while parents build the budget, suggests Birenbaum.

Make a game out of it, she adds. Have them guess what you spend on items including food, gas and hydro. If cutting expenditures is your goal, let the kids pick between extracurriculars, for example gymnastics over soccer, to help them understand how to prioritize spending. “A little bit of collaboration makes staying on budget easier to do, and it also teaches the kids what they should be doing as adults when it comes to money,” she says.

Jeffery adds that, when back-to-school shopping, get the kids to create their own budgets (with guidance), and let them figure out what they can afford, based on the spending money they have.

“It’s living what you preach and if you are a financially responsible parent, it’s taking your kids along for the ride, leading by example and getting them involved at an early age,” he says.


For more on family budgeting, see CPA Canada’s Just the Facts to help your kids learn—and give you a refresher on—money management basics. Or bring financial literacy into your child’s classroom by recommending CPA Canada’s school workshops to your neighbourhood school.