Tips like these helped us pay off $127K in debt. You can read our story in Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.
When the last bell of the first day of school rings, kids burst from the classrooms giddy with new year jitters and newness of a fresh start. Parents wait anxiously at bus stops, wondering how the last eight hours played out. Was the new teacher inspiring? Did all of the supplies make it through the door? How can that sweet “baby” already be ready for a new grade?
The first day calls for a back to school celebration of the highest kind. After all, there’s only one first day of kindergarten or first day of middle school or first day of high school. But face it, your budget can’t support a steak dinner for everyone or maybe even a trip for an ice cream cone. So how do you mark a special occasion like the first day of school without breaking the bank? You’ve got to get outside of the box (and maybe even the kitchen table).
Bus Stop Breakfast
Before your little scholar’s day even begins, consider taking your celebration to the streets. Coordinate a bus stop breakfast buffet with friends and neighbors. Get ready for your day, put chairs in the driveway, and share a meal while you wait on the big yellow bus to arrive. The risk of late disappears and the joy of community multiples the excitement of the day.
Cost: ranges from minimal to zero dollars spent outside of your regular food budget.
Lunch Box Note Inspiration
Midday written encouragement fosters a connection with your child when you can’t be there to verbally cheer him or her along. The night before the first day, take a few minutes to write down an inspirational quotation or verse or even a simple “I Love You.” Crack out the crayons and construction paper or find a free printable on Pinterest. Sneak that note into your child’s lunch box or backpack to ensure his or her first day gains momentum as the hours wear on.
Start a Book Tradition
I’ll never forget sitting at a young friend’s high school graduation and leafing through his copy of Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess. The front and very back pages of the worn copy included a message penned each year of his academic career by his parents on the night before school. They celebrated the traits they witness developing in his character, they shared special memories, they journaled hopes and dreams for his future. Upon on completing his senior year, he had a 13-year log of his first days of school.
You could choose another title or jump into the tradition at any point of your child’s schooling.
Cost: One book per child
Check Out Grade Level Books
Almost every grade level has an epic tale written about it. From Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten to The Night before First Grade to a Smart Girl’s Guide to Middle School, your library has a flood of fun reads perfect to start the new year. I quickly searched the database and found six books all about the second grade for our youngest princess. Check out a few fun books for your child’s upcoming grade to build the excitement!
Cost: FREE when you use your local library
Sidewalk Chalk Greetings
When your child steps off the bus, allow them to be greeted with well wishes right under his or her feet. Crack out the kids’ sidewalk chalk and litter your drive with well wishes. Even if your artwork skills are minimal like mine, you can spread celebratory cheer with hearts and smiley faces. As an added bonus, draw “picture frames” on the ground complete with the date and school year and have your child lay on the ground for a quick photo opp.
Cost: Free or $1 to purchase the chalk at the dollar store.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
It doesn’t get more classic than a hot pan of cookies, fresh from the oven. Pair the sweet treat with an ice-cold glass of milk and your kids will proclaim you parent of the year. If your baking skills are legendary, then prepare them from scratch. Or purchase pre-made dough if you’re under a time crunch. Be sure to share in the delightful indulgence. Breaking “bread” together will allow you to ask questions about that first day without coming off like a congressional investigation.
Cost: Ingredients from your pantry or less than $3 for pre-made dough
Invest in Your Children Every Day
We try to daily center our parenting on a set of verses found in the book of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, part of which reads:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
I’m so encouraged that I don’t have to spend a ton of money or blocks of weird uncomfortable time teaching my kids about the goodness of God. His design is that We teach our kids the lessons of life and faith in the everyday. So that means when you sit at home – mealtimes, when you walk along the road (or ride along in the minivan), and when you lie down and get up. These mundane tasks give you the opportunity to make eternal investments in my kids. Some of the tools that I use every day (and especially try to refocus on during the back to school season are:
- Seeds Family Worship: These CDs are amazing! Think Scripture memory songs that won’t drive you bonkers. You can find them on Amazon, too and a couple of the CDs are in the Amazon Prime Digital Library so you could listen for FREE.
- Scot’s Daily Word: This micro-podcast isn’t necessarily kid-focused but many of the great spiritual truths are applicable – especially for older kids. You can subscribe for FREE and it comes straight to your phone every morning. I typically begin the day by playing one in the kitchen while fixing breakfast. At less than 3 minutes, Scot holds everyone’s attention and delivers a message that is worthwhile and encouraging.
- High and Low: Every night that we can, while we’re eating dinner we take turns sharing at least one “high” or really great thing from our day and one “low” or kinda stinky event. I know some families also share their mistakes from the day (a great way to be vulnerable with your kids) and occasionally our youngest daughter requests that we share “glitter” which by her definition is something sparkly about your day. This simple exercise creates trust, bridges of communication, and an environment where it’s OK to fail and still be loved by your family and God.
Cost: Free unless you decide to purchase a CD
Don’t overthink or overspend on your first day of school celebrations. Meaningful moments can be created without a single dime. Hooray for another academic year!