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Bright ideas from our readers: back-to-school shopping tips

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By GreatSchools Staff

Think about winter.

This mother of 7-year-old twins buys supplies to help her kids get organized and prepared for winter days: "The one thing I can count on in Wyoming during winter is dry air and whipping winds. I buy two pencil boxes at the beginning of each school year: One carries school necessities (such as pencils, scissors, etc.) and the other holds tissues, lip balm, Vaseline therapy lotion, inhalers (asthma!) and anything else that is personal. I also include a list of important phone numbers and a copy of our schedule, just in case."

Teach kids to be savvy consumers.

One mother shared her secrets of successful shopping with her two teenagers:

"My two young teen girls wanted all the latest labels. The costs were out of sight, of course. I developed a plan that worked wonders for all their junior high and high school years. I gave them each paper and pencil, money for lunch, and a budget of $300 each. It sounded like a lot, but we all know that even in those days, it didn't go far. The money was to cover their clothes for the year. (I mentally added a bit more for later on in the year.)

"They were to 'shop' their favorite stores, try on whatever they wanted, and put it on hold until the evening. They had to record the store, what it was, size and cost, keeping within their budget. I met them at a preappointed time and place, usually about 4:00 p.m. at the food court.

"I met them and visited their stores. I had veto rights. Anything too tight, too short, or otherwise out of order for school was vetoed by me. Anything else, I bought. If they had something vetoed, they would be able to shop again to make it up, either later that evening, or on another day. Knowing that I had the final say, they shopped very conservatively.

"The first year, the first thing they said when I met them was, 'Mom, did you know I can get three pairs of pants at ______ for the same price as one pair at _____?' Wonder of wonders, their learning curve just continued to go up. They became very savvy shoppers, and we all saved a day of frustration."

Celebrate going back to school.

One parent suggested using back-to-school season to celebrate success and build anticipation for the coming year, as well as collect necessary supplies: "Have a back-to-school party for your children and request that all gifts be school-related items — you'll be surprised what neat stuff is inside those wrapped packages. This is also a good time to set a standard for the coming year."

Another parent suggests setting up a "brag board" of last year's accomplishments and the coming year's activities, inviting a special teacher, and exchanging gifts of school supplies. "Don't forget to play popular recess school games, school colors, school song, or chants — have fun but don't spend much. Menu: Bag lunches — P & J sandwich (if allergies, use a meat), juice (milk or lemonade), fruit and cookies."

Comments from readers

"Try dollar stores! If your kids need hand sanitizer, kleenex, paper towels etc. like my kids do then hit the dollar stores! I got almost everything there from the things listed above to these clear containers and diaper wipes they needed. I saved a lot of money. The only time I bought at a department store was for name brand items like Crayola or Fiskars. Also...check Staples on line. SUPER CHEAP!"
"You can start an 'outgrown uniform exchange' program at your child's school. If they wear uniforms, then every year you've got a crop of children outgrowing them as new children need them. Most uniform makers have really sturdy clothing that will last for years. I made an e-mail list and sent out an e-mail to everyone on it with my son's old uniform sizes, and a request for gently used uniforms in his new size. Other parents took up the idea and ran with it. It's saves us so much money!! "