Whether your child is heading off to kindergarten or college, this time of year can be summed up in one word for everyone: expensive! Before you rush off to the stores with your back-to-school list and eager kid in tow, there are some things you need to know that can save your budget (and save precious space in your apartment!)
Many teachers of the same grade-level share one supply list – and they don't always need everything on the list. You may see dry-erase markers, notecards, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer on the list – don't send these items on the first day. Instead, wait one week and ask the teacher what he or she is lacking (she may have more hand sanitizer that she needs but she could really use more baby wipes). I once checked my son's backpack a week after school started and discovered unopened hand sanitizer and tissue boxes – he said the teacher stopped collecting those items because she had too many and there wasn't any more room in the cabinet. (Maybe some parents found a deal on hand sanitizer and sent in multiple bottles – but the ones I bought ended up on the bathroom shelf.) Also, teachers may ask for items that are too heavy for your child to carry – such as reams of copy paper. You may want to wait until open house and take those items in yourself.
When sending your child to school, stick to the basics for the first day and send "extras" over the course of the week – this will keep your child from carrying too much and it will keep the teacher from being overwhelmed on day one. Pencils, paper, and folders are the necessities for every age and grade. Your young child may also need crayons, safety scissors, glue sticks, and markers. Your older child may need ballpoint pens, spiral notebooks, and highlighters. Don't go beyond the basics for middle and high school students – each teacher will send home a syllabus with supplies the first week of school. Wait for all of those lists to do your back-to-school shopping – it will save you time and money.
No matter what your kids tell you, there are things they really don't need. Students, for example, don't need tablets. They may try to convince you they do – but unless the teacher says they do, they don't. Many schools won't even allow electronics in the classroom, so be sure to check your school's policy. High school and college students may need a laptop – but don't worry about a printer. Most teachers ask for electronic submissions so printing those essays out won't be necessary. (Even if they get a teacher who wants it in paper form, they can use the printer at the school library.)
Now, about the clothes: Yes, you want your child to look all spiffy in fresh, new duds – and one or two new outfits won't hurt. But don't go crazy and buy all the clothes you think your child will need for the year. Your child will start school in shorts and short-sleeved shirts. After a month or two, the weather will begin to change. Remember those jeans you bought, way back in August? Well, your child had a major growth spurt and now those new jeans are too short. Buy a couple of new items your child can wear the first few days, but hold off on the major back-to-school clothes shopping until mid-October. (The prices will be much better then, anyway!)
The most important item your child will need: a good, strong backpack. While you may look for more budget-friendly options for everything else, don't skimp on the backpack – or you'll be buying another one mid-way through the school year. You want one that is good quality and strong enough to hold up to the tons of books and papers that will get shoved in there (some never to be seen again) over the course of the school year. Look for strong zippers that will hold up under your child's constant zipping and un-zipping. And find a backpack that has a place for everything – especially if your child carries a water bottle and a lunch container.
And finally – wait about a week after the start of school and then head back to the stores. School supplies will be on clearance then, and you can stock up on those things that won't make it an entire year – folders, spiral notebooks, glue sticks, pencils, and loose-leaf paper. When your child shows you a ripped folder at 8 pm on a Tuesday night, you'll be glad you made that last run for extra supplies!