How to Cut School Spending — and Clutter Too

Cut School Supply Costs -- and Clutter Too

Ah, it’s that time again. When the sun goes down earlier and class lists arrive in the mail. Time to relax my grip on the ambling days of summer and begin looking forward to a raring new start.

Diana at 1 year

Diana at 1 year

To me, back-to-school means more activity. Social events and school newsletters pack the calendar and inbox, and while my kids have their noses in books, I try to get down to some more serious work myself.

This year Luke, who just turned four years old, will enter pre-K at our elementary school. It’s a bittersweet moment — I’ll get more time for quiet productivity, but the cost is that my toddler is not so tumbly and chubby anymore. (Thank God, I still have little Diana to keep me from getting too serious.)

One late summer ritual that will be a first for Luke is back-to-school shopping.  It’s a fun outing, but it can get expensive (even though we have avoided any big-ticket “supplies” like electronics, so far).

Here are some ways I’m going to reduce this year’s bill, while making me feel like my house and I are getting fresh start too.

1. Make an In-House Store

School starting is the perfect incentive to tackle our bulging office supplies cabinet, and purge, consolidate, and re-organize. I know that we have armies of pencils and a small forest of pocket folders, so while I’m re-organizing, I’m going to set aside anything I have that is on my kids’ supply lists.

I’ll lay them out on the table by category, and each child can take turns “shopping” from the home store.  Anything that we can’t fulfill at home can be purchased.  Buying new stuff is sometimes easier (and, let’s face it, more fun) but decluttering is really satisfying too, and the effect lasts longer.

2. Upcycle Used Materials

How to Cut School Supply Spending -- and Clutter Too

Teachers often ask kids to personalize their writing or science notebook with drawings, photos, or stickers.  For us, it’s a great opportunity to re-use those free binders from business conferences, and get them out of the house.

Logos can be covered up by printing out favorite photos, like Sofia did last year, and “laminating” them onto the notebooks with clear packing tape.

3. Trade in Old Electronics for Cash

We have a few outdated cell phones in our garage, and I’m not ready to hand them over to my kids. Yet if I let the technology gather dust, they probably won’t be worth much in a year or two.

Clearing out personal info and disabling plans on old electronics can take some time, so I’ll have to set aside an hour or more. If you’re interested too, see this post at Digital Trends for recommended steps as well as suggestions for where to sell your stuff.

It says you can make more money by selling stuff on the open market (like Craigslist or eBay) but a simpler way is to send it for free to a place like NextWorth or Gazelle.

4. Choose Backpacks to Last

By spending a little more upfront for durable school bags, we have been able to keep using them year after year.  I love the gender-neutral ones from Beatrix, or this new line from Land of Nod.

By avoiding characters and girly or boyish colors, our backpacks have been passed down from sister to brother.

5. Shop Close to Home

Cut School Supply Spending -- and Clutter Too

We used to drive out to a big office supply store to get all of our school supplies. But I’ve noticed that making special trips to huge warehouse stores to get good deals can actually encourage me to spend more. Consumer psychology says that if we feel the trip is a hassle, we will buy a lot to avoid having to make a repeat trip and to make the effort “worth it.”

Last year, we tried something different:  we just walked down to our corner CVS and found everything on our three school kids’ lists, including flash drives, a middle-schooler lunch box, and the tissues and wet wipes that teachers are asking for these days.

Shopping close to home meant a low-pressure trip, where we only got what we needed (also because we had to carry it all home). Another bonus? We racked up cash-back points that we knew we could use soon.

6. Get Unusual Items Online

Then if there are any odd items on the list remaining, I find them online, where I know I can get the best price and I won’t have to traipse through more stores (where more temptations lie).  I find that I am less likely to make drive-by grabs if I’m not in direct contact with the sparkly colors of real-life stuff.

Amazon now has a new program called AmazonSmile where 5% of proceeds get donated to the school (or other cause) of your choice.  Now is also a good time to renew school assignments at other fundraising programs like eScrip.

That’s my plan for next week, the final seven days before the bell officially rings.  I’m wishing you a flying start to this school year and smooth sailing ahead.

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