Concerns about global climate change and high-consumption lifestyles mean that more people are looking for ways to integrate the notions of "reduce, reuse and recycle" into back-to-school shopping. Saving money with smart shopping, getting the most use out of supplies, and buying only what's needed help your family, your community and your planet.
Before the start of a new school year, some parents can panic about purchasing long lists of school supplies and equipping their child with a wardrobe that is practical and durable. Here are some simple, affordable ways to avoid a budget-busting back-to-school spree.
Beware of misleading trends; basic school supplies don't go out of style. Consider buying sticker packages and using them to jazz up simple folders and pencil boxes. Name-brand supplies (crayons, pens, markers) are usually higher-quality products and may last longer and perform better. Check out the dollar stores and discount outlets for name-brand items.
Missy Giardine, who lives in the Syracuse University area with her college administrator husband and three children, ages 4 to 9, takes a practical approach to outfitting the kids for school. "Our family has a very low-key approach to shopping for school," says Giardine. "We buy two new outfits and the kids can continue to wear their summer clothes while it's still warm."
She visits the consignment, resale and thrift shops to pick up good quality, like-new items that her children will soon outgrow anyway. When investing in more costly seasonal items like ski jackets or pants, she chooses gender-neutral colors so that more than one child can make use of the barely worn item. "At the end of every season, I buy a few items for next year, but you do have to allow for growth spurts," she says.
Comb the stores after the school-supply rush for great clearance deals. You can also get deals on clothing basics by watching for clearance sales between seasons. At the end of the school year, go through the supplies your child still has. Keep the heavily used items for summer arts and crafts activities. Save unused pencils, leftover paper and other items in like-new shape in a special place for next year.
Giardine makes sure to talk with her children about budgets and practicality. Recently, her daughter, age 9, began to pressure her for a pair of Heelys skate shoes. Giardine decided not to get the shoes, which she deemed too expensive ($60 to $90) and unsafe.
Some kids will insist they are the only one in school without a particular item, like a cell phone. A casual conversation with a few of their friends' parents will set the record straight and help you make the final decision based on good sense instead of emotion. Find a way to compromise that helps your child maintain her dignity while reinforcing your right to provide the best you can without going overboard.
"I think there has been a societal shift," says Giardine. "Parents feel like we have to focus everything on our kids, but I have problems with that." She believes this child-centric focus can lead to self-absorbed children.
Involving your children in financial decision-making gives them the experience and skills for their own healthy financial development. To help them understand budgets and control the desire for instant gratification, try to model these qualities yourself. It's hard to make your child see the benefits of prudent shopping if you're prone to impulse purchases yourself.
The start of a new academic year is a great time to re-evaluate the household budget and see where you can make changes or simplify. Avoiding the temptation to rely on credit cards to outfit your kids for school will pay off in reduced debt and lessons in limiting consumption while conserving resources.