Entertainment, Health and Lifestyle

Back to School, Ready or Not!

It’s been a few years since I’ve endured back-to-school shopping, all-school fundraisers and parent-teacher conferences. Still, the end of summer brings a sweet sense of excitement over September’s promise of a clean slate. I can only assume that having spent so many years in school myself and then doing it all over again with my kids, my inner clock is stuck on the school, not the calendar, year.

Gone are the days when back-to-school shopping meant a new pair of shoes. Nowadays, that simple three-word phrase is tantamount to the first domino that starts a chain of reactions into clothes, backpacks, supplies, fundraisers, after-school care, sports, clubs, school parties, nutritious breakfasts, loads of laundry, carpools, mobile phones, parking passes, lunch bags, teacher gifts and on and on.

Most families these days are on the go, taking life three stairs at a time. Some days it can be quite a challenge to keep everything together.

You may be a single parent struggling to make it on your one income with no outside help or part of a two-income household or some variation between. Regardless of your specific situation, the challenge for all of us is to find practical ways to save time and money every day in all areas that relate to our kids, school and family life. And that’s what this column is all about.

Just when we’re getting used to the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, here come the compelling ads informing us it’s time to unload our wallets at back-to-school sales.

Retailers expect that we will buy an entire year’s worth of clothes for each child (on sale, of course) and hope we’ll do that with a credit card. They know that plastic-packing shoppers spend far more than those with cash. And you’ll know just how lucrative credit sales are for them in the end by how many clerks suggest you open a new credit line to get 15% off your first purchase!

Well, my frugal friends, there is a better way. We can change the rules. We have alternatives.


There is no good reason to buy an entire school year’s worth of clothes and school supplies at the beginning of a new school year. Kids don’t need their whole school wardrobe the first week. New shoes and a special outfit for the first day help a child feel comfortable and confident. Just buy a few things now and then supplement as the school year progresses and the kids go through their growth spurts.


Let your kids know how much cash you’ve allotted to get ready for school. Rather than saying, “That’s all we can afford,” say instead, “This is the amount we choose to spend now.” Then stick to your guns. When parents say nothing about spending limits, kids assume their resources are unlimited.


Some of the best sales are held after the back-to-school sales, when all the overstock is dumped on the bargain racks in anticipation of the holidays.


Because they grow so fast, it is pointlessly expensive to dress children in brand name clothes unless you can find them at rock-bottom prices. But when it comes to items they will not outgrow like backpacks, opt for the best quality you can afford. Cheap backpacks will wear out before the end of one year, while a name brand like JanSport or Eastpak will last for many years. Check out JanSport’s lifetime no hassle warranty at www.jansport.com. If a zipper breaks, a seam pops open or that warrantied backpack gives out for any reason, send it to the company. They really will fix or replace it. I have reports from readers whose kids took their original purchase in elementary school on to college. On several occasions, it wasn’t the same backpack (due to replacements along the way), but they made that single purchase. Now that’s what I call value!


These are upscale secondhand stores where customers are both buyers and sellers. Many specialize in children’s clothing; much are brand-new items with tags attached. As a general rule of thumb, expect to pay 25%-30% of the new price. Some parents do buy brand-name clothing for growing children because those are the items that typically land in consignment shops.


You can find excellent kids’ clothing bargains at garage sales. Top quality can be picked up for a song, provided you’re in the right place at the right time and have a flexible spirit. The garage sale season is fading fast, so time is of the essence.


Check office supply stores for the best price on everything from crayons to binders and notebook paper. Staples, for one, is notorious for amazing back-to-school loss leaders on notebook paper, pencils, markers and so forth to get people through the door. When you find a remarkable sale (notebook paper, for example, is dirt cheap now, but only once a year), stock up for the school year.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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