Confession: I love back to school supplies. I love buying piles of markers and crayons. However, the more kids I have in school, the more ways I'm always trying to make the most of our school supply budget. Here are a few tricks I have learned along the way to help you make the most of your back to school supplies.
Think about the Years not One Year
One the biggest recommendations I can make is to plan for the school years ahead, not simply one grade. For example, our school always uses various colored plastic folders. Some years will say folders with brads. Some years it will say without brads. The teachers don't really care if there are brads in the folders when they say "without brads" (I asked). They simply won't be using the brads. Since we buy sturdy plastic folders, I always then buy folders with brads. That way next year when they actually need those brads, I don't have to buy a new folder when the old one will easily do the trick. Most schools will give you access to all the grades school supply lists so go ahead and look ahead and see what the smartest purchase really is. Another example, binders. One year some will say red binder while another won't care which color you buy. Make your life easy and buy the red one now and use it again later.
If you are using supplies from year to year, take inventory before you start looking at the stores. Compare your inventory with your master school supply list (see below) and you'll know exactly what you really need. What about all those colored pencils that come home at the end of year without a box? We keep ours in a caddy separated by colors (something like this caddy). When we need a pack of 12 pencils, we grab one of each of the basic colors until we get 12 and throw them in a pencil bag. It's easier for the kids to take them out and use when they are in a bag and you can easily switch out colors that get too short throughout the year with your backup stash at home. It doesn't really matter if you have navy blue or royal blue unless you are doing an art class.
Think beyond One Child's Use
Let your kids know you are shopping for the family, not for the individual, when you are buying school supplies. One way that makes this easy is by making a master school supply list. Combine all your children's supply lists into one and shop off that. I use a table in Microsoft Word for our master list. Not only does a master list make it easy to shop for the family but, it helps keep your own head on straight! It's too hard to look at five lists when you are in the store looking at each individual item.
An unexpected perk to family shopping for school supplies? Three people may end up using the same backpack throughout the years. My kids love having that connection to each other. It's become a way to support one another when they can't actually be with each other.
Keep those years of school supplies going throughout various kids with a few more tricks. Those plastic folders I was talking about earlier? Sharpie easily wipes off them with a good Clorox wipe rubbing meaning you can put a different child's name on the folders when you need to. Another tip- if you don't need to put the child's first name on an item, don't. For example, I only put our last name on a pair of scissors or a ruler. It's less confusing and easy to use year after year. If there is more than one child with that last name in your classroom, add the first initial only; it's easier to share when their whole name isn't on an item (or use my family trademark name idea below).
Use Quality Labels
There are some items that I want to permanently label. I use Mabel's Labels for these items (the Starter Pack is what I have). Again, since we all end up sharing supplies eventually, I ordered labels with our trademark family name instead of individual names. If you have a common last name, a trademark family name really helps. It's easier to tell that it's your family when everything is labeled Smith Sloths instead of simply Smith (It also helps if your school knows your family's name so go in and volunteer!). Mabel's Labels work better than Sharpie. I don't worry about them washing off or fading. They stick well and are easy to add to a number of items (and yes, you can put them through the dishwasher and in the microwave). I have the variety pack of labels so I can use various sizes on different things. I put them in their coats, backpacks, pencils boxes, etc. It makes hand me downs all that much easier too because I never have to relabel them.
Stock Up Now and Store It Well
July and August are the best times to stock up on school supplies at the best price. Come January, there are usually requests for more school supplies like glue sticks and pencils. Plus, you will need to have extra supplies to do school projects at home. I have such a hard time paying $4 for markers when I can wait until July and get them for $1 again. Stock up now and always have what you need on hand.
The key to a good stock pile is organization. It doesn't matter if you have 50 expo markers if you can't find them when you need them. I have an awesome spinning organizer that I put in the kid's playroom to make it organized and accessible to them. Obviously, it's not easy to get my style of organizer (my Mom used to own a store) but think of a shelf where you could easily stack pencil boxes and other bins full of school supplies (the dollar store is great for cheap, small bins). Put the loose pencils, pens, erasers, scissors, etc. in pencil boxes to keep them organized. Stack packs of loose leaf paper in one pile and a bin full of tape in another spot. Think of what your kids will be using most and make it easily accessible to them. Then familiarize them with your set up and the rules for access. There is no reason why they can't get a new pencil by themselves without making a mess.
Keep in mind though that only some supplies are good to stock up on. For example, I know if I buy Elmer's glue sticks and leave them in the box, they will last for at least a year. However, if I buy the store brand, it won't last that long- I found that out the hard way. Name brands are just as cheap or close at this time of year so consider going for quality when you stock up.
And remember, after school starts, stores like to clearance a lot of their back to school items to make room for Christmas so take advantage of the clearance items when you can! You can even start on next year's basic school supply list. Keep in mind the lists will change some but things like composition notebooks and a backpack will most likely be on next year's list too so grab what you will most likely need next year at a fraction of the cost while you can (remember, you can look ahead at next year's grade supply list). If you can stay ahead of the game a little, it takes the overall cost for school supplies down a lot.
End of the Year Clean Up
Putting everything away at the end of the school year is just as important as organizing at the beginning of the year. When your kids bring things home, help them go to your school supply zone and put the usable things away for next year. If it gets left out or put somewhere else, chances are you will need to replace it. Tip: Put your children's memory bins next to the school supply zone at the end of the year so you can easily place all those artwork pieces and report cards away at the same time as the ruler and glue.
Do you have half used composition notebooks at the end of the year? You can still save them for next year. Sometimes my kids need a new notebook with only a month left in school- send them with a half used one instead. It's a win-win.
Keep the school fun going- print out my free Mormon Lunchbox Jokes to slip into their lunches for some extra laughs.