Shop like a Smarty this back-to-school season! Here are our 10 tips for how to do it best!
1. Buy the kit. PTAs advertise this vendor option in spring because it can be a powerful way to raise funds for schools; plus, the kits are filled with exactly what teachers have selected. Buying the bundles can also save time and, in some cases, money. An entire “shopping trip” can be over in about 90 seconds after a few clicks.
2. Or don’t. But do tame the lists. I enjoy the traditional shopping trip with my children each summer. I do not enjoy chaos. That is why I take both kids’ lists from their schools and copy and paste the items into a single spreadsheet. I know, I know. But trust me on this one. Simple, sortable columns like the child’s name, the product category, the item, and quantity are all you need to maintain sanity. The printed sheets on a clipboard make a great seek and find, and give my kids some ownership in the process. All I have to do is guide and advise. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy checking items off of a list?
3. Shop at home first. A few items come home from school at the end of each year in pretty decent shape, ready to upcycle, like scissors, pencil pouches, and even lunch sacks. Shopping “at home” can also mean reaching out to neighbors or a neighborhood site like nextdoor.com for bigger purchases like graphing calculators and the latest sneakers.
4. Be selective with stores. If you love Target and navigate it easily, go there. Bargain hunters might prefer big box stores first followed by a dollar store for the remainder. Perhaps you have a coupon for CVS you can apply on basics like notebooks and paper while out on an errand. We chose Walmart because the inventory is large and pricing budget-friendly. Then, we obtained the three items we couldn’t find via Amazon.
5. Avoid peak hours and take along bags. Crowds are less frustrating if you try to go when they don’t; furthermore, packing light with big reusable bags helped me avoid adding another cart to the aisle. I got a workout in, and was able to move around with ease.
6. Get in the right frame of mind. Sure, shopping for supplies can be draining, but what good fortune it is to return to in-person learning for so many of us. And what good fortune it is to have access to education to begin with (not a given in every country for every individual.) It is also not lost on me that many parents would love to take their children on such a shopping trip but cannot due to the ever-rising costs of supplies and difficult economic situations. We take this trip largely because it reminds us of these important truths.
7. Divide and conquer. Like the idea of taking the trip but not the reality, especially with more than one child in tow? Consider taking each child individually and turning it into an occasion to get him or her talking more openly about his or her fears and hopes for the coming school year. Enjoy a meal or movie together afterward.
8. Bring the piggy bank. Inevitably, children will see something they must have that they don’t really need. Another pack of Pokemon cards? A unicorn mermaid fox kitten thermos just like her other one? This is exactly why my husband and I have a spending allotment designated in our allowance system. Be sure kids pack their wallets to exercise their financial literacy muscles.
9. Realize the learning that’s happening. Beyond seeing it all add up and recognizing the value in comparison shopping, children are naturally curious about the supplies themselves. My son asked me why he needed a certain type of calculator now that he’s in middle school. And what are those paper hole reinforcers all about? My daughter wanted to know why teachers care about having certain colors for folders. This is a great time to explain and discuss ideas like organization, time management, and higher level thinking skills they’re about to encounter as another academic year begins.
10. Celebrate! Even if you’re a super Type-A like me who enjoys this excursion, the shopping trip can still be a little stressful and hectic. That’s why it’s important that the last item on your back-to-school bill be something you can enjoy together like popsicles or one last round of S’mores for summer. As the saying goes, the days are long, but the years are short.
Wishing everyone a safe ’21-’22 school year, full of rich learning and happy memory making!
How do you shop like a Smarty? Share tips below in the comments.