by Bethany Proffitt
The back-to-school shopping craze is second only to the Christmas shopping craze in this country. It’s really tempting to think that you need All Of The Things. You go into any store in July and August, maybe you’re picking up a few things for your summer road trip, and bam! Right there in front of you are bins upon bins of bargain school supplies and lunch boxes and backpacks and the craze has hit you like a ton of bricks. You think all of this stuff is just for you. “How did they know I’ll be sending my kids back to school next month?!” Never mind that it’s two pay periods away and you haven’t had time to make a list or take an inventory of what you already have; the stuff is here now, so you think, “I’ll just pick up a few things. I know I’m going to need it eventually, and these prices do look amazing.” Before you know it, you’ve bitten into the apple. No, not the cute little teacher apple; the temptation apple. The one that the snake offered to Eve. The one that Eve knew better than to taste but she did anyway. You know the rest of the story.
When it comes to back-to-school shopping without breaking the bank, I’ve learned a few things.
1. Your kids don’t actually need an entire new wardrobe of fall clothes before school starts.
Did I just blow your mind? Think about it. What month does school start? August. Very good! What state do we live in? Oklahoma. Yes! And what temperatures are typical for August in Oklahoma? 100s! Right! So are kids really going to be wearing their new jeans? After the first-day pics, probably not. I send my kids back to school in the same clothes they’ve been wearing all summer. It is a myth that back-to-school in Oklahoma coincides with a season change. We are usually still experiencing ozone alert days and inside recess because of excessive heat indexes. The kids don’t need new clothes until October, when everything will be on sale and the temperatures begin to dip below 80.
My only exception to this rule is when your kids are required to wear uniforms to school. I have found that uniform clothes are plentiful in August and start to dry up in the cooler months. If you are buying uniforms, try to wear shorts and short sleeves from the end of the last school year—if they still fit and still look decent—and figure out how many tops and bottoms will actually be needed and only buy that many. When my son needed uniform clothes, I bought five shirts and five pairs of pants because I didn’t trust myself to do laundry often enough to make do with less. Although I recommend buying uniforms when stores carry them for back-to-school, there is no reason to pay full price for anything. Stores will typically run promotions on these items during the main shopping season before they are clearanced out. I say, skip tax-free weekend and shop the week or two afterward. Tax-free means a little less than 10% off, but in mid-August, 25% off promotions are more common. Waiting for clearance is risky on uniforms because what your child will need is very specific, and stores might sell out.
2. We have a lot more school supplies around the house than I ever imagined.
If I look, I can usually find scissors, markers, pencils and crayons in our closets and drawers. Take your child’s school supply list and shop your house first. You may be able to knock off a significant chunk of the list before you even get to the store. Check the ads for the best deals, but don’t forget that driving all over town to get 25-cent glue at one store and $1 markers at another can cost more than you’re saving when you figure in your fuel cost and travel time. Pick one store and buy everything on your child’s list at once. Make a list and stick to it. Then stop shopping. If you’ve completed your shopping list, don’t be enticed by fancy marketing to buy a little more and a little more over the course of several weeks. If you can look at the inviting school supply bins, wonder if you need anything, and then reassure yourself that you have everything on your list, you won’t keep shopping all season or buy more than you need.
3. Give! Find a local charity or school supply drive and donate!
That’s a great reason to buy All Of The Things. If you are blessed to be able to buy the things your children need to go back to school and have room to donate as well, do it! Do you wander around looking at all the stuff and wonder who you could buy it for? You may not need to buy for your grandchildren if their parents are already shopping for them, but there are plenty of school supply drives around town that would welcome your donations.
If you’re looking for a way to give back as the kids start school, try the Restore Hope Ministries school supply project.
Bethany is married to Keith, mom to two boys ages 7 and 6 and two girls ages 2 and 1. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development and Family Science; Early Childhood Education from Oklahoma State University. She has dabbled in teaching preschool, homeschooling, and is now working on a degree from Oral Roberts University’s Graduate School of Theology in Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy. She is learning everyday how to be a better parent and wants to help other parents do the same.