Winnipeg parents, students face big back-to-school bills

As thousands of Manitoba students head back to school this week, parents and students alike are facing a financial crunch as the costs of supplies add up.

Stores see increased business, parents eye pocketbook during busy season

Thousands of Manitoba students will head back to school this week. For some parents that means a financial crunch, as the costs of supplies add up. CBC's Alana Cole reports. 1:54

Thousands of Manitoba students will head back to school this week. Teachers are already back in classrooms and most schools in Winnipeg will start classes on Wednesday.

For some parents that means a financial crunch as the costs of supplies add up.

That crunch is also being felt by post-secondary students who are going into debt to pay for their education.

School supply costs rising

A recent survey funded by the Bank of Montreal found Canadian families are spending an average of $428 on school supplies, clothes and gadgets. That number was $362 last year.

On the Prairies the numbers are even higher, with the average family spending $450 on the back-to-school season.

Valdimar Johnson manages a Wal-Mart in Winnipeg and said back-to-school is the second busiest time of year for his store. It’s second only to Christmas.

"Right when we open the doors at 7 a.m., it’s busy families," he said. "They are shopping. They have their lists."

Winnipeg parent Jennifer Boroski said the season isn’t second to Christmas in terms of spending.

"[It’s] more expensive than Christmas, I find," she said.

Boroski said her family is juggling the costs of supplies and costly extra-curricular activities.

"I don’t know if we really have a specific budget. We just know that it’s going to be a lot of money," she said.

Boroski’s is one of many Canadian families trying to watch what they spend this season. The Bank of Montreal’s survey found about 95 per cent of Canadian families are trying to limit their spending.

Families are comparing prices, reusing supplies and buying only what’s essential to try and save money.

Debt worries post-secondary students

Parents aren't the only ones having to deal with big school bills: university and college students are facing large amounts of debt as they pursue their studies.

Al Turnbull, president of the University of Manitoba Students' Union, says debt is one of the biggest concerns students have these days.

Turnbull said when he came to the university five years ago, he did not fully realize how quickly debt could grow.

"I didn't know anything. I came in and I didn't understand the concept of debt," he said. "Debt is a real concept and it's growing all the time."

Debt from student loans alone has risen to $15.5 billion across Canada, and that number is growing, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

As well, there is no shortage of expenses that post-secondary students need to cover — from books to accommodations — and students are being tempted to take on personal debt in the form of credit cards.

Turnbull said his student union will lobby governments on the issue of rising tuition rates, as well as look at ways to educate students about managing their finances and debt.

Students face back-to-school anxiety

Meanwhile, finances are not the only thing that can make going back to school stressful. About 10 per cent of school-age children will have serious anxiety as they hit the books, according to one city psychiatrist.

Dr. John Walker, a clinical psychiatrist with the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Institute of Manitoba, said many students worry more about friends than academics.

"For children with social concerns it’s a really good idea to help them get together with a school friend or something in the first couple of weeks of school just to really build on their friendship and social life," said Walker.

He said it’s a good idea to bring children to the school before classes start to help alleviate stress.

"If you have a chance to drop by the school today if the teachers happen to be in, if you can say hello to the principal or walk around the halls a bit," said Walker.

"If not, if you’re busy during the day, you can go to the playground after school and just get the feeling of what it’s like."

Walker said it’s also important to establish a good morning routine to help students ease stress before they arrive to class.