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Rules of Supplies and Demand

Shopping for back-to-school has much in common with doing homework: The sooner you start, the better it will go.

My first two years of shopping for school supplies, I left it to the last minute. The day before school started, I would stop by a big-box store and choose from the remnants left by the many “on time” parents.

Then I would look for the rest of the items after the first day of school let out and I got out of work. I felt some kinship with the other mothers rushing through the aisles of area pharmacies searching for orange folders, yellow Post-it notes and colored pencils. I felt I had failed at being a “prepared mom.”

Last year I happened to think about school supplies sometime in the second half of August. I was going to a store with a big selection anyway, and I thought, “Hey, I wonder if they have any school supplies out yet?” So with my two lists in hand, I entered the store. A few school items greeted me early on, but the bulk of them was in the back. The mother lode. I had never before witnessed the piles, before they were devoured by the early masses of parents who prepared promptly.

And they were sort of on sale! I picked up the majority of items on the lists. But we didn’t know what individual teachers would require. One had sent a letter in advance. The other sent the list home on the first day of school. So post-Labor Day found me scouring the aisles of several stores in quest of an orange folder. Or was it red? Either way, I could not find one.

Colleagues at work went through their filing cabinets, but no one had an empty red or orange folder. I sent my child to school one folder short and hoped this wouldn’t be the downfall of his or her school career for the year. And he or she (I can’t remember which one) returned home with the right number of folders. The teacher had given my kid a purple folder to fill in for the missing color. Turned out, the child just needed to have different colors. And so another supply search ended. All were happy. And I was done. . . for another year.

Where does one find those supply lists? Did you check the children’s backpacks on the last day of school—or are they still full, sitting at the bottom of a closet? Some lists arrive with a note from the new teacher in August. If not, go to the school’s website and see if a supply list link exists. Lists are usually marked by school grades to give parents a foundation of supplies to acquire. Then individual teachers will make their specific requests, like the elusive red or orange folder.

Sometimes I take the kids with me for supplies, sometimes not. When possible, let the child choose: red pencil case or blue? Yellow Post-it notes or green? But I draw the line at most not-on-sale items. The child usually can be distracted by the next item on the list. As they get older, they like carrying their own lists, checking off found supplies and taking them out of the packages, putting them in their backpacks to be ready for Day 1 of school.

When asked how she shops for school supplies, one mother of three laughed. “My kids are in college now,” she announced joyfully. Back in the day, she said, she tried to grab supplies whenever she saw them on sale throughout the year. It’s safer to buy in advance if there are more children who might need/use/require the supplies in the future.

Also, consider the bulk package of three for less than double the price of one package. Your child will lose, I mean use up, a glue stick, sticky notes, pencils, the erasers (even the giant-size ones), and come home asking for more.

I always feel triumphant when I open the “supply drawer” and extract a brand new glue stick in the middle of March. Ha! You know how much warning you’re going to get: one night, unless you don’t hear the request until they’re putting on boots to go catch the school bus. Buy the extra glue sticks; show them who’s the prepared parent this year.

One of my big potential coups this year was letting the children get colored pencils as a souvenir on a family vacation. I mentioned the pencils are for back-to-school, too, and they agreed. Let’s hope they still want to take them come September.

Eileen Gilligan, a mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York