Back-to-School Expenses in a Blended Family

by Amy  - August 22, 2022

Recently my husband opened our family credit card bill, said some spicy words, and then announced that the teenagers’ spending was “out of control!”

I said something like mmm-hmmm. And nodded hoping that was all the support needed in this moment. 

This wasn’t a surprise to me because a version of this has happened every summer for the past 20 years. I can remember this happening years ago when his kids/my stepkids who are now totally grown and flown were teens.

Sure enough, when he talked to the kids they said it was school stuff. Not all of it was. Their spending was legitimately excessive. But some was back-to-school spending.

Setting kids up for back-to-school can be expensive. We’ve got 4 kids – 2 of his and 2 of ours. When the kids were little we spent the money. Now that the youngest are teens they do some of their own shopping. 

Between clothes, books, technology, and even things like dentist appointments … it can definitely add up. 

This is not an article about how to manage the money. 

It’s an article about how this can be a little more challenging in a blended family or if you have a family where the kids share two homes during the school year and how to get your mindset on straight for those moments.

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Finances or Money are one of the top points of conflict in families. 

This is true even if you are not divorced. This is true even if you are not a blended family. This is still true even if you have plenty of money.

When it comes to why this comes up in back-to-school season I personally think this is because the back to school season is a time when a lot of things need to be purchased all at the same time. 

In my opinion one reason it can lead to conflict is that not a lot of the school supplies  are a whole lot of fun to buy. I particularly dislike spending money on uniforms. That’s just me. Spending money on things other people tell us we have to buy is not as much fun as buying stuff that we want for ourselves.

School supplies can be a little bit fun to buy. It’s probably not most people’s first choice of where they want to spend their money. You’d maybe rather buy a meal out or a movie.

Also, money brings up control. 

The choice of what to buy and where to keep the supplies can be a point of conflict. 

When my stepkids were young we tried to have a whole set of complete school supplies in each house.

Of course, you could ask yourself do we really “need” highlighters in both houses?

And also throughout the year the stuff that really gets used seems to work it’s way over to the other house and then without fail at the time of highest pressure … you won’t have what you need for the assignment when you need it. 

In a blended family with parents and stepparents there can be confusion over who has the responsibility to do the shopping and then to pay for the back-to-school items. 

There are no rules for what is the best way to balance the expenses or responsibilities for school supplies. 

This is like so many things with parenting – what works for one family may not work for you and so the most helpful thing is to try to find what works best for your family.

In my opinion, clear communication can help a lot. 

Also in my opinion, holding space for positive intention can be really helpful. 

I’ll share a story of how it can go wrong even if you mean well. 

I was talking to a stepmom earlier this month. I have permission to share this story but I won’t share private details or the names. 

She told me that the bio mom was upset with her over school supplies. She said, “it doesn’t matter what I do she gets upset. I can’t win!”

I asked what happened. 

She tells me that last year there was conflict over spending on the school uniforms and supplies. She said it was stressful last year because the mom waited until school was almost starting to get all the supplies. She also told me that they “know” that the mom is having financial problems.

So, the stepmom decided to print out the supply list and buy all the supplies for the children for both houses. 

After I heard the story from the stepmom’s point of view I had a few questions. 

The point of the questions I ask as a coach is not to challenge what a client might be doing or not doing. The questions help you see more clearly what you are doing, thinking and feeling and also often to separate that stuff from what you are witnessing others in your space doing, thinking and what you think they might be feeling. 

It’s tricky because sometimes these can get mixed up. 

In this situation as we talked the stepmom realized that she had made some guesses or assumptions about what the mom might or might not be thinking or feeling or wanting or believing. This is where assuming positive intention is helpful.

And also she realized that she had been acting independently without communicating with the other adults in the family. Sometimes that’s needed and other times it’s really helpful to get feedback from the kids and the adults. This is where clear communication is helpful.

One of the key things this stepmom realized when she had the chance to reflect was that the first day of school supplies were something the mom enjoyed doing for her kids. She did things differently than the stepmom but she did enjoy being a part of this milestone. When she gave the stepmom feedback that she was upset, it’s possible that it could just be that she felt like she was missing out. 

Financial discussions can feel hard. There are tips you can use to make this less challenging.

School and Back to School can be expensive. It’s not your imagination it really is.

There’s not one specific exact way to do this correctly. Be kind to yourself and others in your family as you work through challenges like this.

If you’re looking for some help or resources with this type of situation I have two things to share with you. First click here to find out about how you can work with me 1:1. Next, Click here to sign up for my Back To School Summit. 

Training for You

Grab my Steps for Happiness as a Stepparent

4 Reasons Back-to-School Can Be Stressful And What You Can Do About it


Amy Stone (she/her/hers) is a life coach who helps adults in blended families. She is a mom, step-mom and a step-grandma. Other random fun facts include that She is a 7-time Ironman triathlon finisher and many many marathons and shorter races. She created

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