The way I look at it, I’ve experienced fifteen good school years between my three kids ages 14, 11 and 6. For years, we’ve done our back-to-school shopping at Staples and Target, loading our carts with shiny new school supplies. Last year we hit an all-time record, spending nearly $700. Crazy huh?!
I tried to rationalize the obscene total, pointing out the necessity of the required calculator for Algebra ($120) and specialized materials for an Architecture class, an elective. Becoming resentful at the lists of required materials from the teachers, I had second thoughts about buying the less necessary supplies like anti-bacterial wipes and tissues. I was sick to my stomach, assuming we had no choice as we toted home bags and bags of markers, erasers, pencils, paper, notebook and trappers to the car. Stupid me.
The other day, while groaning to my friend Emilie about the impending back-to-school shopapalooza, she suggested that we do some shopping at home first, assessing what we already have before heading to a store. She’s saved hundreds of dollars with this approach and also taught her kids a few good lessons about the value of a dollar, recycling and wasting less.
Maybe everyone else in the world already lives this way and I’ve just been wasteful (despicable me), but we gave this shopping at home a go and I must admit I’ve seen the light.
One cloudy and humid day last week, my 11-year old daughter and I emptied back packs, drawers and cabinets, and tossed out dried out markers and pens, designating piles for Sharpies, erasable markers, ball points, number 2 pencils, colored pencils, erasers, folders, binders and notebooks. We had a blast rummaging, sorting and sharpening pencils together. And let me tell you. It’s truly remarkable what we found. Now when we finally get the official back-to-school lists, we’ll shop first in our own store of still shiny though gently used supplies.
Here are some tips, in Emilie’s own words:
- Go through your whole house, everywhere office and art supplies hide, and gather up all the standard items. Pencils, pens, sharpies, erasers, sharpeners, colored pencils, markers, crayons, highlighters, dry erase markers, scissors, etc. Have the kids help do the “Round up”. It becomes a challenge to see who can find the most.
- Sort out the different items and test the markers, etc. Kids love to use the electric sharpener to sharpen the pencils and colored pencils, making them look new again. Brightly colored eraser tops make used pencils fun again and cases help corral the sets of crayons, colored pencils and markers that no longer have their original boxes.
- Don’t forget to round up all the folders and notebooks too. Sometimes they have been used so little that they still look new. A cute label stuck over the previous subject and no one is the wiser! Rip out the 10 pages that got used in that Spanish notebook and you still have plenty to use for this year.
- Don’t buy a new backpack if last year’s is still holding up. Spray on some stain remover, throw it in the washer, along with the lunch box and then air dry. They’ll look much better when they are clean again. If you really can’t use it again, then try to buy a better quality one this time – you’ll get more years out of it.
And don’t feel bad for Emilie’s Kids. She says she makes a point of going to the store before the mad rush and letting her girls pick out a few cute notebooks and folders. She figures they’ll always need a few new ones anyway but will hold onto receipts and return what isn’t needed.