It was a rainy day at the beach yesterday so I took the kids shopping. I had to get pull-ups (yes, the kid can practically read but still poops in his pants. Please, I’m tired, don’t judge.) so we started at Kmart because that is what is close to the vacation house. I was kicking myself for not packing the back to school lists because they had massive sales on everything from crayons to locker organizers. I didn’t want to overbuy though so I refrained until I could read off the lists.
- Lesson One (for mom): Patience-This chore will get done in time and the world will not run out of Crayola first. I get anxious and used to buy things just to check them off the list which lead to overspending and often not getting all the right items. Well, not anymore. I will shop around and then hit as many stores as I need to get the lists checked off for the lowest prices. I even have a phone app where I can scan bar codes and it tells me if and where it might be cheaper so technology can help me bargain hunt. Love it!
One item I did remember was lunch boxes. The two older ones are ready for lunch boxes that are big enough for real lunches, not just snacks. I must have spent 20 solid minutes comparing sizes, prices and features before I picked two that were acceptable. I actually took four up to the register to check prices before I made the final decision. I only bought two because there weren’t any pre-school appropriate boxes for the price.
- Lesson Two (for mom and kids): Don’t let pride get in the way of smart spending. I used to be the kind of person that would get frustrated that prices weren’t listed but would never make the effort to ask for a check.I would just buy and then feel sick about it if I spent too much. I most certainly wouldn’t have dragged four different lunch boxes to the counter to leave most of them there upon my exit. Also, buying my kids supplies at stores that I used to perceive as “cheap” used to cause great stress. I never wanted them to be the kids with generic sneakers or the uncool backpack. I was that kid and it pained me to pass it on. Guess what? No one cares about any of it. The checkout lady did not hate me for making her check the prices and no one laughed at me for carrying around four lunch boxes. Even if they did, I was secure (smug even) in the knowledge that I was getting a deal no matter what. Also, my kids love their new lunch boxes and not only do they not know they “should” have been from Lands End or Pottery Barn they think KMart is cool! (For the record, the lunch boxes are nearly identical to those high end ones and they were $8.16) My children don’t have the same brand hangups (yet) that I did and so far neither do their peers. Bargain hunting and spending your money wisely is not something to be ashamed of, it actually makes you smart. I’m glad that is what they’re learning. They would even call us: Kmart smart. (Now that’s an ad campaign I can get behind during cartoons.)
We left Kmart and headed to Old Navy to buy some khaki pants and shorts for the Middle One’s uniform. We also found water bottles that would fit in their new lunch boxes and The Baby even got his very own lunch box which was more appropriately sized for pre-school snack and drink.
- Lesson Number Three: (for mom) Shop around and ask advice. I ended up at Old Navy because I talked to other parents from my son’s school and they assured me that administration were not total sticklers about uniform pants. So, for $18-$20 I could get the “official” khakis or for $12 I could get Old Navy. You can guess where I ended up. I’ll buy official shirts because the engraving is cheaper with that company than anywhere else, but for pants I will pick them up wherever and whenever they are cheapest. I had another brand of water bottle in mind, but when we saw them for $5 and they were the same quality stainless steel and the same twist off top, I went for them. The kids know that they get one because our summer bottles are too tall. They also know this is the only one they get for a while, so the older two took quite a bit of time figuring out which one they would like for years. It was cute. This leads to our fourth and final lesson:
- Lesson Four: Traditions affect decisions so form smart traditions: My oldest of course set the stage for back to school shopping and it’s shaped our spending ever since. The kids know they get new book bags in 1st grade because their preschool packs get them through Kindergarten just fine. The Middle One gave me a brief hard time but his sister assured him he would want to trade in his “perfectly good” Batman pack next year because Kindergartners can carry Batman but “mostly first graders don’t”. She did all this while reminding him she didn’t get a new one this year because she is going in to second grade and she picked one last year that “would last me for a while.” She got the lesson. She passed it on. The traditions of your shopping can make budgeting and family outings much easier. Back to school doesn’t have to be a flurry of all new things that leave you broke and with more glue sticks than you’ll ever need. Go through what you already have. My daughter found her scissors, ruler and pencil case perfectly in tact. And of course they were tucked inside that trusty back pack. My son gets mostly new supplies since he’s starting kindergarten but he pulled out his Batman backpack for one more year. Those new lunch boxes won’t be replaced for a while either. The older two also wear uniforms, so they know that other “back to school” clothes usually come in October, when the weather begins to change, the sales come and our budget loosens a bit. We are teaching our kids good money management through the way we spend our own. We include them in the plan and some of the decisions so that it’s not a mystery but rather a way of smart spending that they can grow on.
Back to school shopping can be daunting. But with careful planning and a hefty dose of patience, it can also be a time for great learning; your children’s and your own.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.