Get It Together: Organizing Back-to-School Shopping

Before you can enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with sending the kids off to school for the day, you have to endure that dreaded annual season known as “back-to-school” shopping. Balancing school requirements and your kids’ obsessions with the latest fads against your household budget and available space can be a challenge worthy of an advanced degree. By approaching this shopping in an organized fashion, it will be easier to get everything they need without breaking your bank account, or your kids’ hearts.

Step 1: Assess & Assign

Start by taking inventory of all the supplies you already have around the house. You likely have things left over from last school year and can even raid the home office for things like pens and paper (some people still use paper, right?). Gather all the supplies in one place so you — and your kids — can see what you already have.

Take a close look at the condition of backpacks, uniforms, and other staples to see if they are still useable or if they need repair. Don’t give in to your kids demands for new everything if last year’s supplies are still in good condition. Point out that a hand-me-down from an older sibling is really “reusing” and “recycling” and is therefore environmentally responsible.

Assign one spot in your house to be the supply closet (or shelf or box). This will give you one place to bring back all the new supplies and will help you keep track of your stock throughout the school year. It also means you won’t have to do the gathering step next year.

Step 2: Make a List

Compare your existing supplies against the school’s requirements. It should be easy to get a copy of the supply list for any school and class on the web. Many stores also stock printouts of supply lists from neighborhood schools, so check there if you prefer.

Once you have the list of necessities, it’s time to ask your kids what else they want. Make it clear that these are just preferences and you aren’t promising to get it for them. Many kids want a specific color, brand, or superhero on their notebook, backpack, etc. This is actually a good time to talk to them about budgeting and involve them in the process of choosing what one or two special items they can afford to buy that will fit into the budget.

Step 3: Shop Like a Pro

The tips for actual shopping are no different than shopping for groceries or Christmas presents.

  • Check for sales
  • Buy early
  • Buy in bulk
  • Use coupons/store discounts
  • Take advantage of price matching

Buying in bulk is especially useful for things that your kids will need to restock all year and in future years. Basic paper, pencils, and pens never go out of style and you can buy a bunch during the 5 and 10 cent sales rather than pay full price come November and March.

Just like Christmas shopping, the week after school starts can be a great time for getting bargains on fad items. Stores will be clearing out their inventory of specialty items and you might be able to afford that superhero notebook or laptop case that was too expensive during your first round of shopping. You can even stock up on little items to use as stocking stuffers or as rewards for good report cards.

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