The Cost Going Back to School

back to schoolThe 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. 


About Peggy Guiler

You just never know what show up on my blog. As the name implies it is about the stuff of life just like Spilt Milk. Everyday events spark thought and contemplation. Special events in the community, the country or the world may strike a cord and get me talking. Sometimes it's about people in my life or circumstances, sometimes about my garden, sometimes about a book or a political issue. Always it's about something I am passionate about. In my business, River of Hope Enterprises (, I work as an "Certified Coach" (International Coach Federation), a trainer, consultant and speaker. and as a spiritual director. I also drive a school bus to keep the wolf from the door while I build my business. I love the kids on the bus (most of the time). My family is grown and I have three grandkids who thrill my heart but I don't get to see any of them very often. Circumstances of life have made "family" difficult. My son died by suicide at age 16 in 2000 and the strain on our family relationships since has been huge. Mental health is a field where I worked for almost 22 years and where I still do some consulting and training. That combined with my own battle with depression and my son's death weave together to form some of my greatest soap box items: suicide intervention, suicide bereavement and peer support in mental health are right on the top of my list. Social justice is an underlying passion. Keeping the wolf from the door as a single parent was full-time work and my career path as a journalists was augmented with cleaning contracts, cooking, retail clerk, and bartending. I have known hard work and am grateful for the experience and perspective it has given me. A firmly grounded faith and a passion for learning has now taken me toward a new field as a Spiritual Director and I am soon adding to that a license to marry people. As I move toward retirement I am very aware that I have to keep working so I chose to do things which will meet my modest financial needs and also my love of supporting people in their life journey. Woven into all of this is my love of writing. Trained as a Journalist, and having worked in the field as a freelance news writer for many years, I have a great love for writing. This blog is a new beginning for me. As I hone my skills and begin to form a daily discipline of writing I hope it will lead to more writing in the future.
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4 Responses to The Cost Going Back to School

  1. My dad was a grade school teacher. Mom worked as a nurse- so they both worked. We were able to get new clothes….No name brands,,,,later on unless we paid the difference like you made yours do. In grade school mom still made a lot of my clothes and I loved them. She made a lot of my smocks back then also. Remember smocks?
    We didn’t have as much to choose from so school supplies never put much of a dent in our pockets back then.
    I taught school and would often buy a new blouse for the new year. That was about it for me. I bought Bobby new clothes but he always needed them. Some to wear for school/church and some to wear on the farm.
    His backpack and lunch boxes were new every year. I enjoyed picking them out with him. They were never the expensive ones . He usually like some of the cheaper ones as well as the more expensive ones….
    I enjoyed reading this. I miss those days With Bobby. And teaching myself.
    Hugs Peggy,

  2. Pingback: Anandhotep runs after his dream…leaving tattered bandages in his wake. | Anand's Parodies & Caricatures.

  3. I am always surprised and concerned for the ever increasing cost of school supplies for the Grands. Exactly just what do those without extended family to pitch in do? I fear that alot of this cost is being placed on the teachers out of their pockets.

  4. You’re right, JoHanna. There are a lot of teachers who reach into their own pockets to help out with some of the families, especially when a family has several kids in school. Nice article, Peggy, I really enjoyed back in time.

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