Since the teachers let the monkeys out last spring, the Frugal household has had a pretty active summer. In addition to my starting this blog when all the kids began summer vacation (not good planning on my part), it has taken quite a bit of choreography to manage the usual myriad of day camps, summer school, residence camps, vacation bible school, and a family reunion to boot. Now that it is the time of year to prepare to send our little monkeys (a term of endearment, in my home) back to school, my stress level runneth over.
Shopping for school supplies each year for our household is… well, it makes life interesting. One of my kids’ schools has a very specific list of supplies for each grade. We are strongly encouraged to bring the EXACT supplies listed, down to the brand, count, color and many other meticulous attributes. Apparently, bringing a box with the wrong number of crayons or markers to school could cause our children to become socially ostracized. Bringing the wrong brand just might warrant a call to child services.*
To make things even more interesting for us parents, these supply lists change a little each year. I envision a group of faceless teachers or administrators in the back of a dimly lit room. As they decide on these school supply lists, they might begin a collective maniacal laugh while changing the type of dry erase marker from “fine tip” to “chisel tip”, just so they can drive parents like me to the brink of insanity.**
The school does offer, as a service and convenience for parents, the opportunity to order a kit containing these specified supplies each spring for the upcoming school year. Just fill out the form, write a check, and you can pick up the kit in the fall. Easy peasy. Many parents really like such a convenience. The school makes no profit from this, but I’m sure the warehouses that assemble these kits are making a killing. As you have probably surmised by now, I have never ordered a kit.
Being who I am, I take this as a personal challenge.
Each year, I have shopped the sales, buying the advertised loss leaders from various stores. Not everything can be found on sale, but what can be found really makes a financial difference. When comparing what I pay to the price of the convenience kits, I pay about half the amount on average. With four kids over the years, the savings adds up.
When it comes to typical school supplies such as crayons, glue and notebook paper, I buy as much as I can when a great sale price is offered (usually twenty-five cents or less). The extras get stored away in a box in the basement for future use. If they are not used for school supplies, although they usually are, they can be used either for our office or for arts and crafts projects. The only items that I have found not to store well are markers, which tend to dry out after a year.
Don’t forget about hand-me-downs! That tiny stapler required for one particular grade and only used a few times can be used by another child a few times when he or she reaches that same grade. For items like these, I have learned to only mark them with our last name. An older sibling’s name on a tiny stapler could lead to social ostracism, you know.
Come to think of it, this is how I shop for many things, not just school supplies. Shopping the sales and loss leaders, stockpiling non-perishables, and reusing can apply to so many items we use every day. These are common methods the Frugal household uses to reduce our expenses on many items, increasing our ability to add to savings and investments for the future. In case your kids’ school supplies only include a backpack and a pair of sneakers (I envy you!), these methods can be used in other areas of your financial life.
W.B. Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Here’s to our precious little monkeys beginning the school year, whenever that may be in your neighborhood. Here’s also to the teachers, who we hope have a good set of “matches” as they let our little monkeys back in.
*Exaggeration for emphasis, of course, and maybe a cheap laugh.
** I must mention that I really do have a high respect for my kids’ teachers and administrators, even for those with whom I have had difficulties. My kids have had some top-notch teachers through the years, and I appreciate what they do so much. Teaching is certainly a labor of love and a thankless job that deserves more. I really don’t know who exactly decides on the school supplies, thus I describe them as “faceless”.