Back to school. Whew! What a relief. Although I don't look forward to the school supply lists and shopping in preparation for the big day, I am grateful for the peaceful days that lay before me. I love my kids, but don't love those long summer days playing referee to numerous sibling conflicts between three teens and one pre-teen, each individually determined to have the day go their way.
Two and a half months later I'm ready to all but push them out the door to go back to school! But really, I have to congratulate the kids. That no-one suffered severe injury during all that head butting is truly a miracle! Safely surviving the summer, they now get ready to bravely walk the halls of peer scrutiny. Hard to believe that they could actually be excited about it. But, they are, as they have always been each year before, eagerly anticipating the big day.
I've pretty much got this back to school readiness thing down to a science by now. My oldest of four children is entering the 10th grade and the youngest is starting 4th. Here's how I deal with the back to school essentials:
Know what is "essential"
You have your "back to school" list. Stick to it. Your kids may try to convince you that they absolutely have to have that pack of 20 different colored gel pens. Your answer(or rather question): "Where is it written?"
You know how much you have to spend if you're following any kind of budget. And, everyone should be.
When you have more than one child to prepare for school, you have to negotiate sometimes. Give and take. For example, one child may acquire an abundance of clothing in hand me downs, which happens more often than not in a family with three girls as we have. This leaves the oldest child in need of more clothing than the others since there is little or no existing wardrobe to supplement the limited new wardrobe. The older child might forego a new backpack for more new clothing and allow the younger child to sport the new backpack. The older child uses a backpack that survived the previous year.
I use certain shopping standards and tactics for most back to school purchases:
Back to School Clothing
Although my budget surely doesn't allow for a completely new school wardrobe for everyone, I do manage a few new outfits for each child and a new pair of shoes. If I didn't I would never be able to shake the shame of all the "I can't go school the first day in the same old clothes and shoes!" cries.
I have found that once you're past the first few days, it doesn't really seem to matter. After the first few days, all first impressions are written in stone and there's no turning back. Everything is old news by the second week of school. Realizing this, I know a few new outfits will suffice for the beginning of the school year. I usually add new outfits throughout the year as my budget allows and always include some new clothing in the Christmas gift list for each child.
Of course, I prepare early on, catching all the sales and scanning all the clearance racks. Many times, I will purchase school clothing many months ahead of time when the winter inventory goes on clearance at the stores. If you do this, remember to allow for growth by the time they are to be worn. I'm pretty good at guestimating future sizes.
If you only have one or two children, the back to school clothing budget may not be as challenging for you. But with four kids, I use every money saving tactic known to keep costs down.
Backpacks and Zip Binders
These two items will likely be some of the priciest on the school supply list. That is, next to the infamous TI83 calculator that most 7 graders and up require. I have to mention that recently I saw a headline of financial news that read something like this, "Texas Instruments reports profits at all time highs last month." Well, there's no big surprise there! I couldn't help but laugh.
Backpacks and binders are always used until they fall apart in our house. Most backpacks are machine washable and weather a washing pretty well. I usually let them air dry on a sunny day. New backpacks and binders(on sale), or nearly new ones (acquired at thrift stores and yard sales,) are purchased only in the absence of a suitable leftover from the previous year.
It's true that the more expensive backpacks (like jansport) really do last longer. My kids have been through 2, sometimes 3, of the cheaper ones in years time. My oldest daughter has a Jansport going on it's 3rd year. That makes it the best bargain in the long run. Look for the better brands on sale or off season!
I have found that sometimes two zip binders are better than one. Rather than pack one binder to a bulging breaking point, divide subjects into two binders and they will last longer.
The Infamous TI83 Calculator
I can't imagine my father's face if the school had told him I needed a calculator that costs roughly $100. I chuckle at the thought! But, it's no laughing matter today. In most school systems the TI83 calculator is a requirement today for any child entering a pre-algebra course. The best retail price I've seen for this one hovers around the $70 mark. That's with a sale price and a rebate.
I have seen many listed on e-bay. The ones I've watched, depending on how "used" they are range from $45 to $60 average and you have to pay shipping costs ranging from $10 to $20. Someone once said they were lucky enough to find one in a pawn shop for about $45.
If you really can't afford one of these calculators don't worry. Call your school to inquire what options they have for those situations. Many classrooms have calculators that can be borrowed during class. Many schools offer a rental program for about $10 per semester. This can be a big help if you have more than one child that needs the calculator.
The Rest of the List
Pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, rulers, glue, book covers, etc., etc., etc...
Each year the office supply stores and department stores offer drastically reduced leader items to get your back to school supply business. The hope is that you plan to do all your school shopping in one trip and they'll make up for it on other necessary items.
Usually, one or two items are featured each week for several weeks prior to the start of school. Crayons, pencils, markers, paper, and rulers, just to name a few can be purchased for as little as .10 cents a piece!
I purchase enough of those items when they are on sale to last the entire year. I even have an accumulated stash that is carried over into the next year. So, if I get strapped for money, I won't have to purchase some items at all. Keep your eyes on the sales flyers and buy only those items that are sales leaders at each store you frequent. Go back to the stores as other items go on sale.
Watch for rebates during the back to school season. Many national drug store chains, with rebate programs, offer school supply sales in addition to rebates that result in free items.
For the most part, I use all the money saving strategies that I use year round to save on back to school supplies. As with any budget expense, combining money saving strategies to maximize savings is the best strategy.
Planning and budgeting for back to school supplies is the best strategy. A good budget plan is like a good friend. It keeps you strong and steady.