Remember when you were a kid and how fun it was to go back-to-school shopping and get all new stuff? Nothing gave me greater confidence that I would conquer Phonics and ace math than a new pack of crayons and shiny new Trapper Keeper. Back-to-school shopping was a happy ritual that for me always softened the blow of summer coming to an end.
According to the National Retail Federation, families spend over $600 per year on school supplies in the U.S.! This makes sense as I see the supplies getting more sophisticated and the lists getting longer. I am a mother with two school-aged children still at home and I think I finally have curbed the madness that was back-to-school shopping for our family.
Recognizing the problem is the first step, right? Three years ago I saw a pattern that may sound familiar — every June, my kids would arrive home with backpacks full of perfectly good supplies that I bought in August that they either didn’t use or had barely used. When you think about it, what does a 2nd grader need to keep in place that requires 16 glue sticks? And 48 sharpened pencils? How much writing can someone who is just learning to spell actually do in a school year? I think even I still have a pencil, the pencil, I used in third grade.
So, at the Thornhill house, we shop at home first. Second, we hit Goodwill. Only when we can’t find that odd and unusual supply – like the 3-hole punch that fits into a binder – do we shop retail. Here’s how it went down this year: about two weeks ago, the kids and I rounded up anything in the house resembling a school supply and put it on our dining room table. This knocked off 11 of 19 items from my 10-year-old’s list. A new record!
Next, my colleague Taylor and I took Mia (my 10-year-old) shopping at three different Goodwill stores to see if we could find the remaining items, along with some jeans, denim shorts, and a raincoat. We found unopened folders – two to a pack, notebook paper, pencils (they were Easter pencils, but Mia didn’t care), a protractor, spiral notebook, and pocket folders.
In total, I spent about $8 on those supplies. Best of all, we found nearly new jeans and denim shorts – both with trendy lace trim – for $2.99 apiece. Denim items are hard to find for Mia, so to get two pair at Goodwill for $6 total, was a win!
The only things left on the list are plastic pocket dividers, thin markers, a roll of masking tape and a raincoat. We still have five weeks until school starts and about 12 more Goodwill stores in our area we can visit before then. The best part about this strategy, and our (my!) commitment to following it for three years, is that the awareness and appreciation my kids have for reuse seems to be stronger. They no longer complain about their supplies versus their friends’ stash of shiny new stuff and they do seem a little more aware of the value of reuse. (That might just be my motherly delusions, but I’m going with it!)
If you have ideas for how to save money on back-to-school shopping or reuse in general, let us know. We’d love to hear from you!