Monday, August 12, 2013

Getting the Most Out of Your Back-To-School Supply Shopping

So, its getting to be that time of year again! I don't know about your area but school actually starts THIS WEEK out here! EEEEEEEEEEEK!

I think we are pretty much ready. Junior is totally excited. He's going to be a big 1st grader this year and feels like he has it all handled. I still get a little nervous though-- he's still my baby after all! The best I can hope to do is get us as ready as possible.

Here's a run down of our program-- granted we aren't super experienced as grade-school parents -- but it also includes some suggestions based on my experiences from when I was a teacher.

Basic Equipment:

You've gotta have a bag! We've gotten a new backpack this year-- not something we actually do every year but his old one died a sad and tragic death about a month before the end of school after 3 YEARS of faithful service. I think I got my $15 worth out of that! His old one had a character design (Handy Manny if that helps you date it....) that he originally picked out for our first Mommy & Me class at the park (kind of a pre-preschool type of thing). We opted to replace it this year with a nice solid color Jansport. I'm hoping that going for a quality manufacturer will let this one last a good 2 (or 3 or more!) years.

While there were many character themed packs at the assorted 'Marts in our area, I deliberately limited the selection to a "generic" type of pack. Assuming your kids are like mine -- who knows what shows/toys/games they will be into next year and what will be "too baby-ish". I actually found a decent price online (Amazon) in a basic blue that cost me just over $20.  We found similar ones at our local Ross for a similar price. You can often find higher quality packs at discount stores like Ross, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, etc. that have surplus styles, colors or discontinued patterns of good packs that just didn't sell originally. Spending a little bit more now, to have something that lasts longer, will save you over the long term!

Now for the lunchbox-- this is something that he does get every year. Besides letting him have something fun and personal to take to school, the day to day wear on these things tends to end their lives after about a year anyways. This year-- its Scooby-Doo. Its soooo cute too! He picked one that actually looks like the Mystery Machine that the gang all rides around in. Fun! The $12 is totally worth it when you consider that he'll be taking his lunch to school EVERY day. We do not buy school lunches. I have strong feelings about what they serve, as well as the cost. Unless you are getting the completely free or extremely reduced rates, it is almost guaranteed to be cheaper to buy your own supplies to pack lunches. And honestly, it really is less hassle than trying to make sure they have enough money, are making good choices, etc.

Pens, Pencils, Etc.

For our kiddo, all I'm getting is a new box of crayons, a set of colored pencils and one pack of markers. We have left over construction paper from last year as well as lined paper.  And, after a year's worth of birthday goody-bags, stocking stuffers, prizes, etc. he will probably NOT need a pencil for another 2 years! He is also set on erasers :P 

At this age, unless specifically requested, I'm not going to bother with a 3 ring notebook. Even up to high school, you are probably better off waiting until the first week. You might have teachers who would prefer that your student has a separate (smaller) binder for their class rather than one of those ginormous oversized deals that everything is supposed to fit into. We do have a simple paper folder (for homework) ready to go, though! Since those tend to wear out pretty fast (I think we went through 3 of them last year?) I'll get them now while I can get them for under $1.

That brings me to the "class list". At our school, the teacher puts out a class list of supplies. But they aren't required supplies for each student to bring, they are instead general class supplies for all the students to share (that are typically donated by the parents). This is a great time to stock up on these items. Pencils, pens, erasers, crayons, markers (esp. dry erase), lined paper, copy paper, construction paper are all items commonly found on this list. If your school is the same, and you like to help out, keep this in mind when you spy boxes of crayons for .25! When I'm buying to donate to the class, I like getting TWICE as much as I plan to give -- because in the spring term many of the classes will be low on supplies again but there won't be any sales. Being willing to set this aside for a few months will make you a hero to your kid's teacher in the spring and will really save the dollars, too!

Pencil Cases:

I LOOOOOOOOOOOOVE pencil cases. The zippered pouch style in particular. Not for pencils, necessarily. But I actually have a number of uses that they fulfill around the house. And right now, basic models can generally be found for $1-2!!

1) Games/small electronics: Junior's hand held game system fits easily into a larger 3 ring binder sized zipper pouch-- it also has 2 side pockets, one fits the games and one fits the travel cord perfectly. It cost us about $4 where the custom fitted name brand case cost $30. After a year + of use, its still doing the job wonderfully!

2) Purse organization: In my purse are several of these large zippered pouches. Instead of loose things flying all over my purse, I use each as a mini compartment. One is holding coupons, flyers, & gift cards. Another holds kid stuff (a small box of crayons, a mini coloring book, etc) to keep the littles occupied during long waits (spectacularly useful at restaurants!). This could also be great if you use the "envelope system" of finances to keep your envelopes neat and tidy. Smaller pouches are good for storing make-up and feminine products.

3) Tiny diaper bag: The 3rd pouch in my purse is actually serving as a tiny diaper bag. It fits 2-3 diapers, a travel pack of wipes and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Perfect for changes on the go. No need to carry a separate diaper bag everywhere! Now I can just leave it in the car for absolute emergencies.

Sorry for the ramble! I'm hoping something here might be useful to other people. If you have your own tip you'd like to share, please feel free to post in the comments below. I'd love to hear additional ideas!

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