10/02/2013 03:11 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2013

Parents: Fundraisers Are In the Budget

Parents are bombarded with an endless assortment of school year fundraisers. Schools and other non-profits raise $1.7 billion each year by selling popular consumer items. The Girl Scouts alone take in over $650 million a year with their cookie sales. There are so many opportunities for your children to support worthwhile causes, but at $5 for an orange Halloween flower to support the cheerleaders, $15 to buy wrapping paper that the student body is selling, carnivals, Girl Scout Cookies, and so on, by the end of the school year, the drip drip drip of cash adds up to a significant total.

You can take control of the spending.

  1. Hold a family meeting. Emphasize your support for charity and your understanding of how many causes pop up at school. 80 percent of Americans agree that product fundraising is an important financial resource for our schools and youth programs. You know that your kids would like to support everything, but you just can't do it all. You have to decide on the amount you will spend for the year, and the family, as a whole, should decide which causes you will support.
  2. I am a strong advocate that, from an early age, kids should be given an allowance and budget -- they earn a weekly amount tied to chores, on the work for pay principle. They budget their money, which is a healthy way to handle it. There are four components to my budget system: Charity, Quick Cash, Medium-term Savings and Long-term Savings. Ten percent of all money the children earn should go to charity -- the balance is divided among the remaining categories.
  3. Your kids can choose to use a portion of their charity savings. They can also do extra jobs to add to their cash, just make sure you pay by the job and not by the hour -- you don't want a 20-minute job to turn into a five-hour one. You might want to have a matching program where you will match their donation dollar for dollar.
  4. They are going to have to say "no" to some fundraisers, and they're going to have to learn that doing so is perfectly acceptable. Empower your kids to say "This is what my family decided," and "I'd like to make a donation, but it's not in my budget." Rehearse them so they are prepared and comfortable. They shouldn't feel guilty -- they shouldn't be bullied. Make it clear that we don't donate in order to keep up with the other kids -- the same way we don't buy things in order to keep up with the neighbors.
  5. We need to teach our children all the ways money can work positively, but contributing to fundraisers does not have to be limited to giving money. Volunteerism -- giving of one's time or talent -- is a great way to participate. Instead of buying that $5 carnation, or ordering $15 worth of wrapping paper, your kids can help with the selling or advertising.

More than three-quarters of parents of school-age children purchase products to support school and youth group fundraisers. Supporting fundraisers is a great way teach your children the concepts of charity and volunteerism. It is also an important way of reinforcing money lessons in the real world that will last a lifetime. Following the tips will help you stop that slow leaking of unaccounted for funds.

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