Back to School a Tough Lesson in Spending

Back-to-school shopping with my three daughters.
Back-to-school shopping with my three daughters.

The lazy days of summer are coming to end. I’ve had a wonderful summer full of adventures with my three daughters – we spent a month in Yellowknife – and we have returned to our home in Lloydminster, Alberta. Our school start date was September 4th and this year I’ve prepared for a child in kindergarten, Grade 2, and Grade 4.

Over the years I’ve developed a four-stage plan of attack scheduled over the last two weeks of August. It can be overwhelming for my wallet and my nerves to do everything the week beforehand. I am sharing my back-to-school strategy and the associated costs so that I can create awareness of the emotional and financial investment that back-to-school requires on behalf of parents.

Above all, I recognize that I am in a privileged position with the benefit of support systems. I can afford to purchase new school supplies, clothes, and extracurricular activities for my daughters. I’m disclosing my costs with the aim of evoking change within our social and education systems by addressing the first barrier for parents when it comes to education, back-to-school expenses.

Stage 1: Register children for September programs. 
The registration fee for my three daughters in Girl Guides, Brownies, and Sparks was $364. The registration fee for fall/winter weekly half-hour piano instruction was $560. My oldest two daughters musical theater program was $950. Fall swimming lessons for the youngest two was $84. A grand total of September programs with payment required upfront $1, 958.

Stage 2: Purchase clothes and shoes.
I released my three excited fashionistas’ on the Children’s Place clothing store. I allowed them to each pick two pairs of pants and two shirts each for a total of $154. Their shoes purchased at Sketchers were a total of $180. A grand total of clothes and shoes $334.

Stage 3: Purchase school supplies and pay school fees.
Most schools now send out the option of purchasing school supplies through them with an online payment method. My friend with four children has done this option multiple times and has been disappointed with the quality of the school supplies. I decided to do the old-fashioned let them pick their own supplies. After an hour of shopping, and questioning my sanity we spent a total of $250. In addition, I owe $115 for school fees including project/activities and agendas. A grand total of school supplies and fees $365.

Stage 4: Haircuts and colors.  
Fortunately, I am a licensed hairstylist so I cut and color my daughters’ hair at cost. The trend for kids right now is rainbow hair that usually requires two different sets of foils: one to lighten the hair, and one to apply the vibrant colors such as purple, pink, and blue. Haircuts for children usually range from $15-$30. Multiple sets of foils with three colors range from $60-$150. If I were to bring my three girls to a salon for a haircut and rainbow color I would be charged approximately $300.

Drumroll for the total cost of back-to-school for my three daughters…….$2, 957.

I have not charged for my emotional labor including organizing their schedules or going to the store to watch them model cat t-shirts. Furthermore, I have more spare time than most parents to enact this back-to-school strategy because I do not work a full-time job (other than the tremendous effort it requires to parent my children).

Like the majority of parents, my wallet and stress levels have an inverse relationship. The financial stress of education begins in August before the school year has begun.

There are members of our Women Warriors group fundraising to purchase supplies and clothes for their children. I have compassion for their struggle – single income households with three to five children – that do not have the extra cash for these expenses.

I found a solution to this financial burden, and a motivator for consistent school attendance in the novel, How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place by Bjorn Lomborg. The author explains how programs – known as conditional cash transfers – pay parents for their child’s school attendance.

The logistics of payments could be worked out to be a monthly payment or my suggestion of a lump sum payment in August that allows parents to set their children up for a successful school year.

The intergenerational cycle of poverty is broken, Lumborg states, “because the programs increase the intensity of child investment in school as well as child time in school.”

“In addition to positive schooling outcomes, these transfers have lowered the poverty rate, improved the nutritional status of poor households, and have increased the proportion of children receiving vaccinations and other health services.”

For the naysayers yelling, “Socialist idealist!” at me, I yell back, “Pay now or pay later!”

Pay now for children to get their education or pay later when they become a burden on the social systems because they are uneducated. An uneducated adult will cost the social system a great deal more than my $3000 back to school investment.

Watch Bjorn Lomborg’s TED talk: Global priorities bigger than climate change

In relation to families struggling to supply basic back-to-school supplies:
Pay phone bill or buy school supplies? Low-income families struggle as kids go back to school.
Edmonton families struggling to afford school supplies on the rise


Please register for the Women Warriors Onion Lake Cree Nation program with Alicia 306.344.2330. Free to participate.

 

September 10, 2018. I had an awesome workout at Determined Bootcamp with the owner and instructor for Women Warriors, Rita! She will be instructing at our Onion Lake Cree Nation program this fall.

 

Sunrise over the Great Slave Lake from my balcony. July 2018.

 

Our floatplane ride (article below). Air Tindi Pilot Mike Adams, and my three daughters, Harper, Kayla, and Aubrey. August 3, 2018.

 

View from the float plane of downtown Yellowknife and Great Slave Lake. August 3, 2018.

 

Houseboats on Yellowknife Bay, Great Slave Lake. August 3, 2018.

 

The Healing Properties of Great Slave Lake

This past summer I went back to Yellowknife to heal from a broken heart. A family members addiction had me deeply troubled, and I needed a break. A break from giving to others because my cup was empty. Between my family member’s addiction, finishing my university studies, parenting three young children, writing my newsletter and Yellowknifer news column and making arrangements for the expansion to Onion Lake, I was done. If you would have stuck a fork in me I would have deflated like the turkey in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
I decided to take the summer off to spend with my girls and my family. It was the best form of medicine. I did not schedule a single thing for myself to do, except following the advice of Maria OneSpot’s WW profile, “To wake up with the sun because it is who we are as a spiritual people to rise with the sun.”

And I wrote. Every morning I sat on the balcony of our condo, overlooking the Great Slave Lake, and I filled three 250 page Hilroy notebooks with all my grief, sadness, hopes, dreams, and future plans. Somewhere between the last week of June and the first week of August I recovered.

I believe that the Great Slave Lake assisted in my healing. Even though I was not physically on the water, the view calmed me and gave me strength.

I share my experience with the healing properties of water because I want to honor all the Indigenous women that sacrifice for our waters. Indigenous women are water protectors. For those Indigenous women that have taken on the role to educate on the spiritual properties of water and to teach people to respect and honor water, I thank you.

This past week, a friend and former member of Women Warriors told me that community members from Onion Lake Cree Nation were doing a water ceremony at the bridge. I told her next time I would like to join. She replied, “The more people we get to pray for the water the stronger our prayers will be. The land and water are for everyone – we have to keep the waters clean.”

In the meantime, please check out the amazing work of Autumn Peltier, an Anishinaabe teen and water protector nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

The following is my Yellowknifer article published August 8th, 2018. It provides both non-Indigenous and Indigenous understanding on the healing properties of water. If you want a more in-depth understanding of Indigenous women’s roles as water protectors please read this article, Water Song: Indigenous Women and Water

For the past month in Yellowknife, I rose early in the morning, sat on the balcony of my condo in Northern Heights and inhaled the fresh air and spectacular view of the Great Slave Lake. I felt at peace watching the pink glow of sunrise, and the calm waters.

This past week I read a Global news article, “Science confirms that living near a large body of water makes us calmer and healthier.” Curious as to how bodies of water increase our well being, I set off an extensive Google search.

The term, blue space is used to describes places that have visible water such as lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. Yellowknife is surrounded by blue space including the Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife River, and the many small-scattered lakes visible from the air.

The research pertaining to blue space, explained by marine biologist, Wallace J. Nichols in his bestselling book, Blue Mind: The surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do, states that water promotes mental health and happiness.

He continues: “Water can provide a long list of benefits for our mind and body, including lowering stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts. Aquatic therapists are increasingly looking to the water to help treat and manage PTSD, addiction, anxiety disorders, autism and more.”

I’ve also learned being near water boosts creativity, can enhance the quality of conversations and provides a backdrop to important parts of living — like play, romance and grieving.

“All of this depends on these waters being safe, clean and healthy, of course,” states Nichols.

First Nations have known the spiritual and health benefits of water for millennia. The Assembly of First Nations website honors the traditional teachings of water and declares it as the giver of all life. (Disclaimer: I do not have the authority to share cultural teachings of water. Please consult your local Elder to learn about the traditional teachings in your area).

“Water is the most life-sustaining gift on Mother Earth and is the interconnection among all living beings,’ it reads.

“Water sustains us, flows between us, within us, and replenishes us.  Water is the blood of Mother Earth and, as such, cleanses not only herself but all living things.  Water comes in many forms and all are needed for the health of Mother Earth and for our health. Water gives us the spiritual teaching that we too flow into the Great Ocean at the end of our life journey. Water is the home of many living things that contribute to the health and well-being of everything not in the water.”

As part of Old Town’s Ramble and Ride on August 3rd-5th, I booked a floatplane scenic tour with Air Tindi. The special deal, $80 per adult and $60 per child, was the perfect ending to our vacation. It was awe-inspiring to view Yellowknife and surrounding area from an aerial perspective. The most surprising aspect was the vastness of the Great Slave Lake – it stretched as far as the eye could see.

An interesting fact on the Spectacular NWT website is that the lake is roughly the same size as the country of Belgium. Also, that it is North America’s deepest lake and could easily drown the CN Tower.

Viewing it from the air made me realize how integral the Great Slave Lake was to daily life, including the activities of boating, fishing, paddle boarding, and float planes and how everyone is reaping the benefits of living near it. The Great Slave Lake allows for a unique feature of Yellowknife – people living on houseboats on Yellowknife Bay. The five communities that live on its shores – Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Resolution, Lutselk’e, and Behchoko – are all blessed to be near its healing powers.