Back-to-school is the natural new year for anyone who has school-age children. A new grade, a new class, a new teacher; new sports, new teams, new after-school activities, a new family schedule.
Back-to-school can also be a very expensive time of year. School supplies - backpacks, lunch bags, pencil cases, pencils and erasors, binders and paper and notebooks. Clothes - kids seem to grow by leaps and bounds every summer and last year's pants and long-sleeved shirts leave several inches of lanky wrists and ankles dangling below the hems. At least a few new pairs of jeans and track pants, t-shirts and sweaters. A pair of indoor shoes, a pair of outdoor shoes. A jacket or hoodie for fall. It all adds up.
This year, with my youngest starting kindergarten, I will have three kids going back to school next week. Three kids in school means three times the back-to-school shopping and a fair bit of planning.
Before hitting the stores and sales we rooted through the cupboards and closets to see what we already had. Two kids in rep sports for the last three years have yielded a lot of barely-used bags and backpacks. My husband's company Christmas gift each year includes an insulated lunch bag so the cupboard under the sink is a treasure trove of lunch kits in every shape and size imaginable. This summer's massive cleanout and purge yielded more than a half-dozen pencil cases being used for various storage purposes throughout the house. We gathered everything together and let the kids pick what they wanted to use or decide if they wanted new. In the end, the only new bag we bought was for Youngest Child; starting school for the very first time deserves a special new backpack of his very own. We stuffed the bags with big box store school supply specials: fifty-cent binders, twenty-five-cent notebooks and ten-cent pads of paper, one dollar each for boxes of pencil crayons and packages of rainbow pencils and erasors. For less than twenty dollars all three boys were completely kitted out with school supplies.
I shopped big box store again for the older boys' clothes - it's a rare occasion when an item of clothing lasts longer than a season with the way these kids grow - but I lucked out with the little one. With two older brothers, much of his wardrobe has always been hand-me-downs, but he's at an age now where the wardrobe is getting a little sparse - by the time the boys outgrow their clothes they're usually also completely worn, torn, tattered and utterly unwearable. Before I even began to make a list of what I'd need to buy for back-to-school one of my soccer mom friends gave me an enormous bag full of hand-me-downs she'd discovered during a houseclean. And another bag the next week, and another the week after. It was like Christmas morning! There's nothing better for a parent's budget than hand-me-downs - and now my youngest is fully outfitted for the next year or two for absolutely free.
The kids' summer sneakers should do for outdoor shoes until winter boot season so I only had to buy one new pair per kid for indoor shoes to leave at school, and their spring jackets - bought a little too big last spring - will do double-duty for fall until the winter cold hits.
Back-to-school can be a costly time of year, but with some planning it is possible to keep the hit on your wallet to a minimum.
How do you save on back-to-school? Hand-me-downs? Second hand stores? Mom-to-Mom sales? Reusing and repurposing items you already own? What are your tricks for smart back-to-school shopping?