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Back-to-School Shopping Sanity Savers

Well y’all, as much as I hate to admit it, summer is coming to a close. I still have a few weeks left before I go back to school, but I know many of your little pumpkins start classes in just a few weeks! Hard to believe another summer is almost in the books. But now our attention needs to turn to something we all dread, something that strikes fear into my heart: back-to-school shopping (cue scary music here).

That’s right, back-to-school shopping time is approaching rapidly. Just picture it: crowded aisles, long lists, and tantrums (yours) when there are no crayons left to be found in the city! Today I want to give you my top nine tips when back-to-school shopping. This is from a teacher’s perspective.  I’ve seen many a back-to-school fail by inexperienced or rushed parents in my ten years on the job. Read below for my tips, tricks to make back to school shopping a walk in the park (or at least bearable!).

Back-to-school shopping tips

Back-to-School Shopping: School Supplies

Look for Durability, Not Price Tag

I am a firm believer than you get what you pay for, in life and especially with school supplies! Buying quality gear does not mean you need to go bankrupt outfitting your five year old in the most expensive name brand everything. But do check stitching and the quality of the material of items.

Dollar Store: No Bueno

Under no circumstances should you buy your school supplies at the Dollar Store! Walk, no, run in the other direction. Why? because, simply put, their stuff is crap. Not don’t get me wrong; I shop there too and love it when I can find something for half of what it would be in another store, but NOT for school supply shopping.

The difference is, school supplies are going to need to last ALL year. A binder, back pack, lunch box, or even glue stick from the Dollar Store is not going to cut it. You’ll be lucky if it lasts until the end of the month, much less the year. What does that mean? It means you’ll be purchasing a replacement, then another, then another. Before you know it, you will have paid just as much, if not more, on replacements than you would have for a quality or brand name item. Don’t do that to yourself. It just doesn’t make sense.

This goes for everything from lunch boxes to scissors and glue, (Dollar Store glue sticks dry up within DAYS if not hours in my classroom), pencils (break and break and break until they are the size of a golf pencil) or loose leaf (rips easily).

Not to mention that taking advantage of sales at the big box stores means their items are often cheaper than the Dollar Store. Trust the teacher who bought 50 sets of crayons for $1.50 a piece at the Dollar Store, only to realize two weeks later that Staples had them for 70 cents. When you buy 50 packs of crayons each year (I buy all my students’ supplies), it adds up!

Remember to Buy Extra

School supplies are at their cheapest during August and September. Once back-to-school sales end, prices skyrocket. That is why it’s advisable to stock up on items you may run out of (pencils, crayons/markers, loose leaf, notebooks/duo-tangs, binders etc.) in the fall. If you have to go back in February, prices will be at least double on many items. This has happened to me! I had to find green duo-tangs (very specific, I know) and had to pay TEN FREAKIN’ DOLLARS for a set of 20. In September, it would have cost me two dollars. The prices went up 500%. Don’t be like me. Be smart and buy a few extras. Even if your kids don’t end up needing them (they will), you can always tuck them away for next September, right?

Buy What Your Teacher Asks for or Recommends

Teachers are not out to get you, and certainly not out to spend all your money on frivolous things. If an item appears on the school supply list, there is a good reason for it. You may think that your child can’t possibly go through ten boxes of pencils or 50 glue sticks in one year. Believe me, they do. Just fulfill the teacher’s requests. Don’t start your year off by being that parent.

Does your school has an option to pay a flat fee for supplies, rather than shopping yourself? If yes, then for the love of all things holy, take them up on the offer! Teachers often get discounts, meaning that they can buy in bulk and get more supplies for a lower prices. Give them the money, put your feet up, and enjoy not having to go through the zoo that is Target/Walmart/{name your box store here} in August/September. Why would you want to refuse this amazing offer? See above about being that parent.

Go Early

As much as you may want to bury your head in the sand and pretend summer will last forever, you really do want to do your back-to-school shopping early. The week before (or worse, day before) school starts, stores are an absolute nightmare. They are so cramped you can barely move. Half the items (especially the good deals) have been snatched up weeks ago. Don’t do that to yourself. Go early, lock your bags of goodies in the basement and continue living in denial for the next few weeks. Oh, and if your school is the kind that only hands out their list ON the first day of school, good luck to you. I have only two words to say to you. Possibly the most powerful words in the English language: Amazon Prime.

Back-to-school shopping tips

Back-to-School Shopping: Clothes

Shoes: The Shoelace Debate

Please, please, please make sure your child can put on their shoes independently. If I had one wish in the world, it would be that all children had appropriate footwear. If your child does not know how to tie shoes, do NOT buy them sneakers with laces. It is as simple as that. You may be thinking you are going to teach them before school starts. That is so wonderful, but save them for home. Do not send lace-up shoes to school until they can do it 100% independently every SINGLE TIME. Just don’t do it. No indoor shoes, no outdoor shoes, no fashion boots that just go so perfectly with their outfit. Don’t do it.

Wait for the Sales!

As far as back-to-school shopping goes for clothes, I recommend against it. Now I hear you, of course you’re going to want one special outfit for that first day of school picture. That’s fine. Beyond that, I would like your munchkins wear the clothes from last year for the first month of school. After the Back-to-School “Sale” is over, stores need to clear out merchandise to make room for Christmas. That’s when the prices REALLY drop.

Back-to-school shopping tips

Back-to-School Shopping: Lunch Items

Independence Skills

Similar to my shoe tying rant, it is important that you choose a lunch box and containers that your child can open independently. It’s not that teachers don’t help little ones at lunch time, I have no problem doing that. I would truly be happy if that was my only job at lunch time.

The problem is inevitably, as soon as we arrive in the cafeteria, one of three things happen: A student pees themselves (I teach kindergarten remember), a student becomes ill and needs assistance (fun fact: at our school there is no custodian on duty at lunch time, so guess who gets to clean up the vomit? This gal!), or somebody spills all over themselves, the table, the floor and their neighbour. The point is, as much as your child’s teacher is happy to help open lunch items, the reality is, they may too busy with a more pressing issue. It is much better to make sure your child can open lunch items independently , rather than put them in a position where they must wait for half the lunch block before the teacher is able to help. Here are a few of my favorite kid friendly lunch items.

Insulated Lunch Box

You spend all morning slaving away to a beautiful chicken salad sandwich, complete with side salad and boiled egg for your precious little angel to take to school. The lunch sits in a book bag all morning (in a potentially un-air conditioned building). Guess what? By lunch the salad has wilted, the sandwich is harbouring potential salmonella and don’t get me started on the egg smell. An insulated lunch box solves all these problems.

One Extra Tip

Do not, I repeat DO NOT, send your kid to school with a fidget spinner unless permission has been expressly granted. The only thing I dream about at night is the day fidget spinners disappear from the earth (Germany is making a good start).

May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor

There are my tips for making the most of your back-to-school shopping. As Effie Trinket says, “may the odds be ever in your favour” (actually had to look that one up. I think I had a newborn during the Hunger Games hype… a two and a half hour movie? Ain’t nobody got time for that!).

What are your go-to survival moves for back-to-school hell (I mean time)? Share below and help you fellow tributes with their fight to the death for the last pencil case.

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Back-to-school shopping

11 thoughts on “Back-to-School Shopping Sanity Savers

  1. This is a FABULOUS post – the fact that you’re writing it as a teacher (not just a parent) gives you SO much street cred here! I totally second everything you say, as a former teacher (albeit of older kids). The only tip I could add is, esp. for clothing items, it’s worth seeing if your area has children’s consignment/resale pop-up events. We have several throughout the fall, starting as early as week-after-Labor-Day, and I LOVE picking up gently-used L.L.Bean, Lands’ End, etc. clothes for my kids there for a few dollars per item (I kid you not!).

    1. Good point! Love shopping secondhand instead of buying new! Those are some great deals! Glad to know a fellow teacher approves! Thanks for your comment!

  2. I will soon be a part of the “back to school shopping” as my son is entering his first year of Head Start where we relocated to. I did not realize how much there was to truly know about back to school shopping. I was fixed on dollar store for some quick essentials, like notebook and pencils, what more could they need. LOL I was so wrong! Thanks for the help and keeping me on the sane side to prepare to start tackling every parents school starting stress.

    1. So glad to have helped! I would definitely stay away from the Dollar Store, but there are great deals at this time of the year at many other stores! Good luck, Mama!

  3. Dollar store glue sticks, lol. As a teacher and mom, I do get a few supplies from the dollar store, but NEVER glue sticks, pens, crayons, or markers. Great list!

    1. Agreed! There are a few hidden gems, but most is just awful! There are brand-name Crayola crayons and markers at our Dollar Store, but they usually cost more than at other stores!

  4. Such a great article! I totally agree with the “No Dollar Store” rule. I’ve had so many things from there that fell apart so quickly!

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