Here we are just about halfway through July, which for most, marks the halfway point of summer break from school. For some reason, this also means that school supplies have now replaced all of the summer decor and outdoor furniture at Target. Um…WHAT?! There’s still over a month before my boys start back, why do we need to declare it’s school supply season?
It’s not quite back to school season (at least not in my mind anyway), but when that “season” does come, it brings with it this strange level of expectation and anticipation. As a teacher, I can attest to the fact that the first day of school feels different than other days. The excitement as friends who haven’t seen each other but a couple of times a week, if at all, now get to return to daily face to face time is palpable.
Most students have freshly cut hair, brand new shoes, and an entirely new wardrobe. In fact, it’s expected that everything is crisp and brand new.
According to a recent Deloitte Survey, “Parents expect to spend an average $501 per student on back-to-school this year, on par with last year, reaching an estimated $27 billion.” Woah. $501 PER KID. Of that $501, school clothes are expected to account for 55%; so $275.55 per kid on school clothes, and $225.45 on supplies and electronics (electronics include Chromebooks, laptops, and graphing calculators).
Except we won’t be spending that. Not even close. And neither should you.
We used to fall into this trap that I see happen around back-to-school time, and about four years ago, my husband and I decided right then and there that we were done. When did back to school time turn into another holiday? How did this expectation that parents should drop a small fortune on back-to-school start?
If you think about it, it’s fabulous marketing really. If there were no back-to-school “season,” there would be nothing for them to majorly profit from between Easter and Christmas (which that’s another post for another day). I mean, did you see that number…$27 BILLION just on back to school.
But we didn’t decide not to participate in this spending frenzy because of how much businesses would profit. In fact, our decision had nothing to do with anything other than a handful of what we think are pretty practical reasons.
My kids don’t need new clothes.
You might read that and think that we’re somehow depriving our boys, but when I say they don’t need new clothes, I mean it. Just in this last month we cleaned out their drawers and took out between 10-15 trash bags full of clothes. And guess what? They’re not going around naked.
We buy them new clothes and shoes when they do need them.
The number one clothing items we have to buy are pants, socks, and underwear. And the truth is, our boys need these things much more frequently than at the start of school. One year we had to buy B new shoes before Christmas, and again at the start of the summer, because his feet grew THREE sizes. This last year the shoes he got at the end of the 15-16 school year lasted through the 16-17 school year.
Shoes are kind of a different story.
As I mentioned before, we buy the boys shoes as they need them. Boys are hard on shoes. We’ve had multiple soles ripped off, holes in the soles, and holes in the toes over the years. The worst part? The most expensive shoes were just as bad as the ones we got at K-Mart. This past year we bought Nike brand and they lasted all year. Our school requires the kids have separate gym shoes, so we spend $10 or less on those. This summer, this past school year’s gym shoes became play shoes since their other shoes were pretty trashed. Amazingly, no one’s feet grew too much to need bigger sizes just yet. That means this summer’s play shoes will be this coming school year’s “school” shoes until there is a need to replace them, and we’ll buy new $10 shoes for gym.
It’s not practical.
If you have one kid, spending $275.55 for school clothes may not be so bad, but we have three in school, meaning we would be spending over $800 at one time just on clothes. Depending on where you shop (the survey found that most shoppers were going to shop at less pricey places like Target or WalMart as opposed to department and specialty clothing stores), that can be a lot of clothes. Clothes that weren’t really needed to begin with, and would get added to already bursting closets. Not to mention, with boys, those clothes will stay nice and brand new looking until lunch before they become napkins, and then get covered in mud or grass stains from recess.
We shop smart for all other supplies.
Last year, we spent under $100 on school supplies for all three boys combined. Under $100. That included all of their actual supplies (pencils, pens, markers, crayons, colored pencils, scissors, etc).
Backpacks are an area where I’m willing to spend more. We don’t shop the $10 backpacks at discount retail stores; those last about as long as a white t-shirt stays white. Instead, they all used the same backpacks from the year before because we invested in heavy-duty, high quality backpacks from LLBean. We also purchased lunch bags from there. We had to replace one of the lunch bags part way through the year because one got left on the toaster oven and it melted the inside. Otherwise, we’ll be going on year three with the same backpacks and lunch bags this year.
Our boys aren’t of the ages where we need to consider buying expensive devices for them to use at school, but given that I am an educational technology director, I know how to shop when it comes to technology and get a great deal.
This year it is even more important than ever for us to be savvy school supply shoppers because J has been out of work for just shy of two months. It definitely isn’t practical financially to be buying all new wardrobes, and it certainly isn’t necessary.
Do you buy your kids whole new wardrobes for school? I’d love to hear your thoughts on our reasons not to in the comments below.