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Back to School Sanity

This is the time of year that drives moms nuts—back to school shopping! Long summer evenings, baseball, the sunshine, and lemonade stands will give way to early bedtimes, school buses, and homework.

With the rise of “back to school” as a two-month marketing exercise for retailers, coupled with cash-strapped school districts placing more of the supply burden onto students’ families, it can be a tough job to get the kids outfitted without breaking the bank.

To your kids, shopping for new clothes, gear, and school supplies may be the only good thing about going back to school. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune every year. Here are some ideas for getting everything they need, and saving a few bucks doing it.

desk-605497_1280Before checking so much as a single back-to-school sales flyer, define two things: what you need, and what you already have on hand. Get the school list as early as possible and keep the supply list with you when you get it, so you can check on prices each time you shop. It is so easy to take the teacher’s list and set off shopping without considering supplies you may already have at home. Anything you have is a freebie, so check the house for rulers and protractors, pencils, crayons, glue and binder paper that can be used to fill the school list.

Just about every retailer wants a piece of the back-to-school action. School supplies pop up in the oddest places, like crafts stores, dollar stores and supermarkets. Shop off the beaten path for good prices. Check weekly supermarket circulars for great deals on pens and loose-leaf paper, and get your weekly grocery shopping done at the same time. Bonus: buying everything in one place will save time and gas money.

When shopping under stress, you may rush to buy things just to get out of the store, so avoid anxiety triggers like hunger, fatigue, crowds, time constraints and arguing with cranky kiddos.

School supply aisles look like toy departments these days, and kids have a big desire for everything they see. Shop from your list to keep back-to-school spending within budget. Use the list as an exercise in financial education. Children, as natural consumers, are easy prey to “buy-me, buy-me” pressures, so smart parents set limits during this time of year.

Have a conversation with your children before leaving home — not in the store — to set the agenda for your shopping trip. Decide on one or two special splurge items together and make a point of spending time picking them out.

Another way to impart a financial education is to establish a budget amount, and help your child meet it. They will want every licensed-character item they see, no matter the cost. So, help them become discerning consumers by making trade-offs. Maybe they can afford to get the character backpack if they buy less expensive notebooks. This makes the budget limit clear and teaches them financial skills at the same time. It’s a great opportunity to teach your kids a valuable life lesson about buying the necessities instead of buying ‘stuff’ just because their classmates’ parents did. (“Pamper a child and he will be a terror for you, indulge him, and he will bring your grief.” Sirach 30:9)

Be aware of the loss leaders in stores—those popular school supply items advertised at a great price in order to lure shoppers in, with the hope they’ll load their carts with all the other extra, more expensive stuff they need once they’re in the door.

When you find good buys, stock up on the basics that will be needed all year: binder paper, composition books, spiral notebooks, pencils, erasers, crayons, and markers. Set aside a supply stash. One-way to conquer the “where is it?” chaos: designate a box, shelf or drawer as your school supply depot. Keeping all the school supplies in one location will keep you from buying items you already have.

I’ve gone school supply shopping with my daughter-in-law the past few years and there is ALWAYS something on the teacher’s list that we absolutely cannot find. There is always some oddball item that does not exist in any store we visit. Do the best you can to meet the teacher’s requirements but know when to give up.

Go through your kids’ closets with them to identify which clothes they can still wear, and what they need to buy. Establish a reasonable budget and have them be the ‘leader’ in picking out what to buy within identified parental limits, school dress codes, AND budget. It’s is amazing how they will pitch a fit for a name brand shirt until they are in control of the purse strings and they realize they can get two less expensive shirts for the cost of one name brand one. It’s fun to watch them become careful consumers when they are in control of the spending money.

It’s important to be prepared and have a plan of attack. Otherwise, you will be one of those zombie parents walking around the school supply aisle with glazed eyes frantically mumbling about a red college-ruled notebook.

As you prepare for the back-to-school shopping frenzy, reflect on this verse to bring you some sense of peace: “Trust God and he will help you; make straight your ways and hope in him.” Sirach 1:6

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