No surprise here, for me planning and preparing for back-to-school has always been exciting. I think it’s where my love for monthly “calendar days” (i.e. the first of every month when I plan out the 30 days ahead) derived from. Yes, I agree, I’m a total nerd but it’s the planner in me.
As a parent though I have a confession, my love for back-to-school has dwindled. As much as I love the planning and preparing part of it all, I despise the spending. It is just too expensive. New clothes, new shoes, backpacks, lunch boxes, school supplies, etc. etc. the list goes on. I leave the weekend of shopping and preparing feeling like a “serial swiper” and that at some point someone is going to cut up my debit card and stamp insufficient funds on my forehead.
Nevertheless there are lessons in every thing we do. This year marked my fourth consecutive back to school shopping excursion and I *think* I might have figured out some tips and tricks that (hopefully) worth sharing. Here goes…
Tip 1. Student Supplies Blame it on the planner in me, but my first tip is to begin executing your list for the subsequent year on the last day of school on the previous. When your child comes home with a backpack full of a year’s worth of accumulated “stuff” go through it then and there. Make a toss pile, a keep pile and a recycle pile. Toss is obvious. Keep is for those special pieces of art and earned 100s for the scrapbook and recycle are those folders, markers, crayons, headphones, etc. that can fulfill the checklist for school supplies for the following year. Put them in a bag or box and set them aside, not to be used over the summer, and then pull them out before you head off for your shopping trip in July/August.
Tip 2. Clothes As a parent of two the reality is, buying a new set of full wardrobes for each one every summer would certainly add up to a cost I don’t want to pay if I don’t have to. Not to mention that it would also set a precedent of expectations that I personally find unnecessary. I don’t get a new wardrobe annually, why is that even a thing? I don’t want my girls to correlate new clothes with new chapters in life, and furthermore …why should I? We are on a year-round schedule which means my girls are out of school for 4 weeks. FOUR WEEKS. Seriously?! Let’s be real. There is no way they have outgrown every article of clothing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m on board with that new first day outfit. I get that it is special; along with a few key items to prepare are certainly important. This is where the list comes back into play. I can’t speak to boys, but for girls, each year I know they’ll need a new white cardigan, pants, since here in NC they’ve been wearing dresses and shorts for months and mostly outgrown anything of length, and shoes are a given with young kids…they outgrow these so fast! So how do you get around the school clothes shopping spree without breaking the bank?
This part is a bit of effort, I admit it, but remember time is money and in this case time is money-saving! My advice is to make a list first. What do they really need for the upcoming year? Then go through their closets to see what they have, cross it off your list and set it aside for school, from there either pass down or take out clothes that no longer fit. Back-to-school is a perfect time for closet clean out and you avoid buying dupes of anything they still fit in. When you head to the store for the remainder of the list remember to hit up the sales. Thankfully there isn’t a shortage of good deals in July/ August but I’d also recommend taking a look at consignment deals. Here in Raleigh every summer they have something called the Kids’ Exchange. It is a 4 day event where consignors can sell any and all items for kids. I mean anything! The final day of the event everything left (in 10,000 sq ft) is marked 50% off. Crazy right?!! Every year I get up, show up and save. This year I was able to get everything on my list for both girls for the full year, we are talking winter clothes, soccer gear, next size up rain boots, even holiday dresses… ALL for $130.00. According to a survey on parenting.com, this is the same amount the average person spends on a single child for back to school clothes only. I spent half of this and got far more that will save me throughout the year. Win.Win.
Tip 3. Classroom supplies. This has been a controversial topic and I’ll be honest I think the debate in and of itself, is frustrating to me. People often forget that sometimes when we spend money we are investing in other people. That’s the push behind small businesses. Think of your child’s classroom as a small business. If you invest in it wholeheartedly your gains will return in large percentages. Teachers, like small business owners, don’t have the funds for bells and whistles that maximize learning fun and sometimes even the basics that are necessary. I have no problem spending a little bit more on classroom supplies to help all of the children, and the teacher, be successful. Sure, I may not buy everything in excess but if I can provide a few extra markers, pens, post-its because they are in bulk when I buy them, then by all means. Try not to get bent out of shape about the school supply list when it comes to “classroom wishes.” Remember, that extra box of tissues you send in might be the one reached for when your child sneezes or the extra crayon box may just be the ones your child use when he/she has broken their last favorite blue Crayola. Yes, I’m all about budget, but I’m also about perspective.
Tip 4. Use your resources. For many kids having a summer birthday can be a bummer. I know Charlotte has said time and again how she wishes she could have cupcakes at school. So instead of bringing her birthday to the classroom I try to bring some school into her birthday. When people ask what she needs or wants for her birthday, I delegate with intention. Maybe its a back pack or a new lunchbox, extra sox perhaps or that special dress she just might choose to wear on the first day. Not only does this get those kiddos that may not be as excited to go back to school get a little bit of excitement but it helps pull the cost off the parents. For close friends and family, I know not getting birthday presents isn’t really an option, even if I say, “oh she doesn’t need anything” so let’s be real, if they are going to spend their hard-earned money, let it be on something necessary and practical. I would much rather have someone take my advice on getting that new back pack she will love as opposed to a toy she won’t have time to play with once the school year begins.
In closing, I circle back to the topic of perspective. I know lots of kids who don’t love going to school and the first day back is more anxiety and eyerolls. So to them I say, try to make it fun. Unfortunately even for these kids back to school prep can be a headache so ask your student what is one thing that they want? What is one item that will help ease the those first day/back to school jitters? Then work with them to build it up as best you can. We didn’t have a lot of money or resources when I was growing up but I remember how special that single “back to school” outfit always was. I may not remember much else but I do recall how exciting getting ready for the first day was. (Totally dating myself here) but I remember even just the night before I’d do a special beauty treatment (cue the mayo hair mask and Sea Breeze astringent) get my crimper and caboodle kit ready for the morning and set out my clothes and supplies for the following day.
The point? Bells and whistles are unnecessary on all accounts. Be practical. Be realistic. Set a budget, plan ahead and you won’t break bank. Even if your budget allows for it, why do it? Invest where you need to but save where you can.