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Back-to-School Shopping Advice

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The Mom Congress delegates may be activists.  They may be volunteers.  They may be teachers and organization presidents and a host of other things.  But they’re first and foremost mothers and now is the time that they’re running around getting their own kids ready to go back to school.  I can’t think of a better group to ask for back-to-school shopping tips and advice.

My suggestion, is to shop at one store.  When you think about the amount of gas that you spend searching for a deal or two, it's just not worth it.  Figure out what store you can get more bang for your buck and go there.  My store of choice is always Wal Mart.   ~Yolanda M. Gordon – 2010 South Carolina Delegate

I always try to shop early.  If you wait too long, the supply selection really goes down. I'm always looking for a good deal to hide in the back of the closet until school starts, no need to wait until the month before to start shopping.

I also coordinator a project that gathers school supplies for local children in-need to make sure every child in my county has the tools they will need to start the school year off right! I use the same principles above to shop on a much larger scale. I look for internet deals, donations from local merchants and receive thousands of item donations for this wonderful program each year. I am currently waist deep in note books and backpacks etc. etc., but it is such a pleasure to see bright little faces as they come to pick up their new backpack and supplies!!  ~Angela Fiedler – 2011 Minnesota Delegate

Our 15th District PTA in partnership with our school district here in Louisville (Jefferson County Public Schools), and through volunteer support from local PTA/PTSA leaders, Family Youth Resource Service Center staff, and other community members, hosts an annual "Back to School Blitz" Clothing Assistance Program event where we provide a brand new school uniform (pants, shirt, socks, underwear, and a belt) to the children of our school district as well as provide them with other gently used clothing items. During the kick off we see close to 400 families A DAY, and often these families have more than one child.  Thus, in any given day we could fill close to 1000 bags of clothing!

Once the week is over, we still continue to see families (as many as 200 a day) and provide them with this much needed school support. The Clothing Assistance Program has been a PTA volunteer opportunity for 40 years, and the Blitz week has existed for the last 10. For some children, this uniform provides them with the opportunity to make sure they are prepared for school, thus ensuring better attendance and curbing in-school suspensions and absenteeism. Last year, the 15th District PTA helped close to 7000 children with this program and our goal is to help 10,000 students and their families this year. This is but one way that we help the families in our district prepare for back to school - and throughout the school year as needed. For more information on this program, contact the 15th District PTA at ~Myrdin Thompson – 2010 Kentucky Delegate

When it is time for back to school shopping, I get all a-flutter.  I love the look and smell of new crayons!  However, I also feel a little bit of dread because I know that that it can be very expensive to purchase all of the supplies needed for a year of learning.   Planning can make a huge difference in keeping some extra money in the wallet.  I start watching the flyers for office supply stores beginning the end of July.  I try to stock up on many things when they are on sale.  There are things like binders for $1 and even packs of pencils for a penny.  When I buy them, I try to buy extras to donate as well.  Our church does a collection for children who cannot afford school supplies and we are able to donate them there.

I also try to buy things on clearance once school has started.  Then I am able to stock up for replenishing supplies as they dwindle through the year.  My children will not give me much warning when they are in need of new pencils or crayons.  I have a stash of them that I keep so when they need a new pencil for the next day of school, I just go to my "stash" and get a couple of new ones to send with them.

This year, I needed to purchase a TI 84 graphing calculator for my oldest son.  I opted for a used one rather than purchasing one new.  I did some looking on e-bay and amazon.  I found the exact calculator that we needed that was used but still in great condition.  I was able to save about $30 by buying used. ~Kimberly Kuhlman – 2011 Illinois Delegate

Back-to-School shopping when your spouse’s employer has gone bankrupt and you’re trying not to lose your home… is a bit tricky.  I had to draw on lessons learned from my parents when times were tight.  Last weekend we held a yard sale – something I haven’t done in about 10 years!  Both our kids freed themselves of some toys they’d outgrown.  My daughter’s huge Barbie collection (living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, camping set, Van, remote control jeep and motorcycle – and a bevy of horses, and an entire Ziploc bag of shoes!) all found new homes.  The 100 plus Hot Wheels my son had amassed, and some pretty cool tracks and service center, found new kids to love them too!  Both kids did quite well and managed to pull together enough money to get some new items for their back-to-school wardrobes.  With finances so tight, it was a great opportunity for our kids to put aside some of the things of childhood and take on the responsibility of purchasing their own clothes.  The shopping trip that ensued was about the best I’ve ever had with my two young teenagers.  I was impressed with their shopping savvy and their responsible use of the funds they’d earned.  What a cool life lesson! ~Laura Taylor – 2010 California Delegate

Buy School Supplies without Stress or Surprise

“If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers.”  ~Edgar W. Howe

The summer cicadas sing the warning.  School is sneaking up right around the calendar corner.  While some mothers exalt and dance with the vacuum, others dread the end of summer's family adventures.  All mothers, though, deserve some peace and ease in their final days of the season's sunshine.  Purchasing school supplies should be done in an orderly, efficient fashion to reduce stress for children and parents during this annual time of transition.

Take a deep breathe.  Sip your coffee and follow this plan of attack for coasting through those mountainous shelves of spirals and highlighters. Those who shop early in the season may find the widest supply selections, while the procrastinators may find the lowest end-of-season prices.   

Secure the accurate list of your child's school supplies- this can be a bathrobe task as most lists are now available on school websites.

Go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.  Most shelves are also stocked overnight so you'll discover the most tidy and completed inventory.  Be sure to double stock certain items for your child's homework area so that productive and easy work habits can be reinforced at home.  Pencils, pens, and paper are important to have at home.  Calendars or planners are a superb additional purchase for school supplies.  Helping or having children note assignments, practices, and special dates in these organizers encourages mental organization and comfort.  They reduce a child's stress of surprise and reinforce routines.  Sticky note pads and highlighters are a child's joy.  Help them to use them in productive ways. 

Be sure to include your children so that they develop personal responsibility.  Young students can check off items as they are found. New and established readers can read the list and compare to item labels. Older students can consider the list to be a "treasure hunt" challenge as they search for items while you shop for food. 

Still in your bathrobe?  Shop online.  Stores such as Office Max provide easy school supply shopping right from your kitchen table (or beach chair).  Enjoy the last silly summer days with the ones you love.  They will be racing for the school bus soon enough and... Christmas is only 100 days away. ~ Elizabeth Normile – 2011 Virginia Delegate

Last year (for my son's K teacher) I asked two other new parents I knew a little bit, to go in with me on a gift card to a local book store. She was a new teacher, and we knew she needed supplies. We wanted to encourage the sharing of great books, and with the card, I included one of my favorite multiracial books, brand new, to give a very positive message of welcome and inclusion to her. She knew we were her allies from the start.

I also shared with her a great idea for back to school night. A board with post-its on it. Each post-it included something she needed for the classroom like "box of tissues" or "glue stick". Every parent who felt able to get one of the things, took the post-it home.  ~Catherine Anderson – 2010 Maine Delegate

Here in Arizona we're heading back to school next Monday!! Everyone is out BTS shopping and it's a busy time for all!! A few tips that we live by with our daughter (4th Grade) is she gets three BTS outfits and two pairs of shoes. She picks the stores she wants to go to by looking on line first. In Arizona they can go to school in shorts, which most have plenty of. Fall attire isn't needed until the end of November.  This year her backpack and lunchbox are still in good shape, so they'll get an extra school year!!

When shopping for School supplies we look at ads online. We print out the class supply list and visit the stores that have the best deals on those items. We always purchase at least twice of what the teacher is asking for. We keep in mind that teachers purchase most of the classroom supplies out of their own money. It usually takes care of the whole year and the prices are so low on most of the items during the BTS season, so it's the best time to buy!

Our PTSA does set aside dollars to support families that need assistance. If more is needed they cover it as well. Our school counselor takes care of these needs and lets the PTSA know how they can help. Our PTSA also gives each teacher $100-$200 at the beginning of each school year to spend on their classroom as they wish.

One other thing our PTSA does for BTS is organizes families and the community to come out and spruce up the playground prior to school starting so that it's beautiful and ready for the kiddos! This past weekend families got together and painted new lines on the BB Courts, Hopscotch, four square and anything else that needed painting. They cleaned up weeds, trimmed grass around the sidewalks, etc... Home Depot or Lowes will donate supplies if asked in advance.  PTSA provided drinks and snacks for all!! ~Christina Hernandez – 2010 Arizona Delegate

We actually wrote a grant for backpacks and school supplies for all the students on free/reduced lunches at the elementary school and submitted it to several local foundations.  We got a wonderful response.  Now we know a few more foundations that may help us with future grants and we received enough foundation support to buy backpacks/school supplies for the whole district for anyone who may need them.  Lena White has headed up this project for us.  She took the time to shop all the big retailers and get price quotes.  Shopko was the only retailer willing to take the time to put together a price quote, locate supplies at other stores and give us 15% off.  Target was kind of rude.  Wal Mart said they did not have the man power and Fred Meyer also did nothing for us.  So I say ALL MOMS buy your school supplies at SHOPKO!  Thanks ShopKo for going the extra mile.  It was because of their 15% off we were able to buy for the whole district!  Thank you also Preston Smith Region 3 Idaho Falls and Chubbuck Shopko!!!!!

Lena is also picking up all the supplies, assembling all the backpacks by class requirements, and distributing all the backpacks.  Without her help - we would not have been able to have such a wonderful successful program.  Another Mom (she has 4 daughters in the district) making a difference and getting involved!  We LOVE Mom Congress!  ~Candice Larsen – 2011 Idaho Delegate