The other day I had to run in to the local “Staples” store to pick something up I had run out of and ended up spending half an hour browsing. I’m way past having to buy back to school supplies but the displays and options had me mesmerized. I left wishing I was going back to school on one hand and delighted that I didn’t have to buy all this stuff on the other.
When I was a kid, going back to school was pretty simple. Considering my mother was a school teacher it was a bit more of an event at our house than some but it wasn’t all that hard to get ready. You wore what was in your closet and things were only purchased when they needed to be. There was no big “buy new clothes event” and running across the border for deals in the US like I had to do with my kids when they were teens. (I wouldn’t be doing that now with the Canadian dollar hovering at .75cents US).
As for the pencils, pens and such it was pretty simple too. They were provided by the school until grade five and then you had to buy a fountain pen and bottle of ink if you didn’t have one from the previous year. There was usually a bottle of ink at home. Later the fountain pen was exchanged for a pen with ink cartridges which could be purchased at the local drug store. In high school there was a need for binders and note books or lined paper and a geometry set. When my kids went to school there were pencil crayons and a calculator added to that list along with ball point pens. (Great invention but I still love a fountain pen). Now there are coloured pencils, washable markers, locker organizers, back packs with wheels, and a $295 iPad…and on, and on.
I don’t know how young families can do it. Even 30 years ago when my kids were in school it was difficult. It was at the beginning of the designer jean era and dressing your children in good clothes no longer meant clothes that were of good quality and would last for the year but rather clothes which had the right label. I had to make a rule with my kids because as a single parent I just couldn’t spring for the name brands. The deal was this: I pay for what it would cost at Zellers (now it would be Walmart) and they had to pay the difference if they wanted the designer stuff. It certainly encouraged them to get and keep their part time jobs. It was also when you had to start buying two pairs of running shoes for each kid so they had an inside and outside pair. Just shoes cost me a week wages then.
A recent article in Yahoo says this about the cost of sending kids back to school in the US (more in Canada I’m sure): “The average elementary schooler’s must-haves this year total $649; for middle school students, it’s $941; and for high school kids, it’s $1,402, according to the ninth annual Backpack Index survey from Huntington Bank in Columbus, Ohio, released on July 29.
Figure it out. A single parent may be fortunate enough to have a full time job where they make $12 an hour in a 40 hour week. That is $480 before taxes and other deductions. That means almost three weeks pay will have to spent just on back to school supplies.
Below is a link to some great ideas for saving money on back to school supplies which a family can use. I also encourage families that are struggling to visit the local food bank to see what they might be able to get there so they don’t have to purchase as much. Some areas have Back to School programs. Schools may have ideas about where they are.
As for the rest of you, when you go to the store this week pick up and two or three $10 gift cards and drop them off at the local food bank. Grandparents can do the same thing for their grandkids to help them out a little.
Money Crasher’s ideas for saving on back to school.