6 Ways to Save for Back To School!

As a follow-up to last week’s post about honoring your kids’ school supply list , as promised here are some ideas about saving money (without buying off-brand crayons!)

6 ways to save money on school supplies

This tips are carefully considered and respectfully offered.

Background: I grew up in a wonderfully thrifty household.  I was taught that a person’s value does not lie in brand names, but that school is of utmost importance and teachers are to be respected.  I was bullied in school (not oversensitive, legit bullied!) for my clothes, shoes, hair, you  name it.  I am a middle-school teacher on hiatus.  I am now a parent.

With all of that in mind, I can understand parents, children, and teachers involved in this whole back-to-school situation.  I have tried to offer tips that help your budget but are not crazy hard to accomplish.  I’ve kept in mind the reality of kid needing to be remotely “in style.”  All suggestions are made in hopes that this helps you afford the specific supplies your child’s teacher has asked for on The List.

Here we go!

1 – Sort, declutter, and evaluate first!

In June or July, go through the major areas of back-to-school – clothing and school supplies – and see what can be used again next year.

If your child wears hand-me-downs or you thrift/yardsale ahead of sizes, evaluate how many upcoming clothes they actually like and will wear.

Get their fall wardrobe out of storage and check what will still fit them, fold, and count the items against how many they will need.

If your students wear uniforms, check older siblings’ uniforms to see if anything can be passed down.

(A capsule wardrobe for your children will really help keep costs down, as well.  I hope to write a post about this in the future!  Kids need less clothing than we assume (we all need less than we think!) Better to wear and wash and love a few pieces than have a closet stuffed full, a bank account empty, and “nothing to wear.”)

UNPACK THEIR BACKPACK and check for salvageable school supplies (binders, notebooks, pens, highlighters, calculators, locker accessories) throw out what can’t be saved, and check this against the school supply list.  Again, check siblings’ supplies in case there are grade-specific supplies that can be used again (calculators for elementary vs. high school math, certain colors of pen, certain kinds of binders or folders, leftover index cards or wide-ruled paper vs. college-ruled paper.) There is likely at least a few items of clothing or supplies that you can use again!

Evaluate what is truly needed.  Sticking to the list is important, but “extras” are not.  Examples?  Your child may be required to get plastic folders, but there are likely several price options that are all plastic.  Perhaps they need a 5-subject notebook – but it doesn’t have to have a cartoon character on the front!  A separate pair of “dedicated gym shoes” does NOT mean “$300 Nikes.”  If you choose to upgrade a supply or purchase brand names when it isn’t necessary (or buy your student scented markers or Sharpies or locker decorations, for fun) that’s your decision and should be factored into your budget!

2 – Shop second-hand first whenever possible!

Second-hand clothing from yard sales, thrift stores, or children’s consignment stores are a great place to start with savings.  If you are brand-new to second-hand shopping, I suggest starting at a children’s consignment shop like Once Upon a Child or Too Little for Me.  I find that children’s consignment offers great quality and most items are still in style.  You decide whether to take your child along on these shopping trips or not!

If your children wear uniforms, still check for pieces that can be acquired second-hand.  Often uniforms contain polo shirts or button-down shirts that do not need to be brand specific.  Even khaki or navy pants can be found in these stores (if your kids need uniforms, odds are good other kids in your area have also worn the same pieces!)  Additionally, by all means buy used when it comes to your child’s at-home wear and/or gym clothing!

Some school supplies can be purchased second-hand as well!  I have found many binders and folders (even expandable files!) at the thrift store – just open them up and make sure all the rings work.  Thrift stores also usually have loose leaf paper and notebooks (just check the rule of the paper – bring a piece of the right size to check them against if they’re not labeled!)  For big ticket items like Algebra-level calculators, check Craigslist or local buy-sell-trade sites, as well as friends and relatives.  (My family passed around the same big calculator for many kids, and my in-law family did the same!  I believe my husband actually gave his high school calculator to our nephew, even.)

If you are in great need, there are usually free clothing and/or school supply resources in your county through nonprofits, social services, or a local swap group.  Search the Internet, and use those resources!

3 – Sales and Discounts

Of course.  But many school supply sales begin early (like July early!) so be on the lookout and have your declutter and second-hand shopping done so you can walk into those sales prepared!  Something you possibly don’t know is that some states offer tax-free back-to-school shopping weekends where you automatically save your state’s sales tax on everything.

Some things can be stocked up ahead, especially if you have multiple children attending the same school so you have a good guess about what will be needed in the future.  Standards like the 24-pack of Crayola crayons, Ticonderoga #2 pencils, Kleenex, can be purchased in multiples if you catch a great sale!

Use those store coupons and discounts as they come to you (again, have the decluttering and thrifting done early!), even if that means buying one piece at a time.  Stores like JCPenney, Kohls, Macy’s, etc often have $10 off coupons that can be used in-store or online, and offer uniform pieces or regular clothing.

If you have a store credit card or gift cards, now is the time to use them!  I personally only have experience with Kohls as far as store credit goes, but they send a 30% discount every 6 weeks or so.  Along with $10 off $10 coupons.  (Absolutely no affiliation or kick-back.  I wish!)  I do not advise credit if you have difficulty paying it back!  Open and use lines of credit like cash – budget to pay the whole bill every month.

If you rack up customer rewards at non-clothing stores, see if they carry school supplies.  I get Goodwill Reward coupons for $5, and I know Shopko offers rewards coupons after spending money on prescriptions.

4 – Budget ahead of time

This may take a year or two to work the kinks out, but back-to-school happens every year.  For at least 13 years.  This should be part of your yearly budget, not a big surprise in August!  A few hundred dollars should cover clothing, shoes, and supplies if you shop prudently.  This is similar to the price of one new smartphone, 4 rounds of eating out at a restaurant, a couple household gadgets… things that many people purchase without much hesitation, and come from a “fun” budget category.  Supplying kids should be its own category.  We started a “kids” section of our budget before each baby was born, and have used this fund to cover baby supplies, diapers, booster seats, clothing, school tuition, art supplies… you name it!

5 – Outlet stores

If your children have strong opinions about brands, see where your nearest outlet store is for Nike, UnderArmor, Adidas, etc.  (Personally, I hope my parenting style leads to not having to buy these brands, but I digress.)  I have shopped these stores looking for sneakers for myself, and the pricing seems fair (less than full retail, but things are new and still “in”  so more expensive than thrifting.)

6 – Carry around the school supply list!

After you’ve decluttered and checked off what items can be reused, borrowed or bought second-hand and checked off those items, start carrying that list around in your purse or pocket so any time you are out running errands you can reference it and pick up something if a deal appears.  Perhaps you find you have a little money left on a gift card.  Maybe you get a free item with purchase at an unlikely place like a grocery store.  Maybe you’re out of town and happen to see a sale you don’t get the ads for.  At a rummage sale with a friend and happen to find something your child needs?  No problem!  Your list is with you and can be referenced and checked off immediately.

Forgetting what is already owned and duplicating purchases is a huge budget killer in any area of shopping!

 

Do you have great tips for saving money on back-to-school essentials?  Leave them in the comments (if they don’t involve off-brand crayons or skipping the Kleenex!)

6 ways to save on back to school essentials

5 Ways KonMari Minimalism Improves My Life

5 Ways KonMari Minimalism Improves My Life

I can’t claim to be an expert minimalist.  I don’t count my possessions, I can’t fit everything I own in a backpack, I don’t have a spartan tiny home.

But goodness, do I have less stuff than I used to.  I aspire to minimalism.

I applied the KonMari method to my entire home when pregnant with my second baby.  Call it extreme nesting if you will.

I did it again as we were packing up that house to move.

And I’m doing it again right now in my new home (how did this stuff even get MOVED here?!)

It is the best homemaking decision I’ve ever made, and here’s why:

birch trees. Text: Minimalism Changed My Life

1 – Minimalism forces me to think deeply about purchases and gifts

Before I buy anything for my husband or kids, I think seriously about whether it is amazing and going to be used frequently.  This results in usually buying one joint large gift for Christmas – and this last year we skipped in entirely.  We went on a 2-day vacation with our dear friends instead, and it was so much better than a gift!For our children, we follow the 4 gifts principle – something to wear, something to read, something fun, and something they need.  (Clothing, a book, a toy/game/ticket to somewhere, new sheets, dishes, etc.)  Since they have grown up this way, they don’t expect anything more lavish.  My 3 1/2 year old still gets excited when we put his “new” sheets on his bed, and talks about how he opened them on Christmas.

2 – I am more motivated to finish the laundry and the dishes.

I only have enough sippy cups and coffee mugs for two days.  I also only have enough kid dishes, good knives, and pans for two days, so if I’m feeling unmotivated I can only possibly let the dishes go for a day before we run out of necessary items.  (Sippy Cups and Coffee Mugs would make a great blog name – feel free to borrow that one!)Likewise, we have pared down our wardrobes to the point where I can’t skip laundry.  Maybe this doesn’t happen to everyone, but before KonMari I could skip laundry indefinitely.  I had SO. MANY. CLOTHES. that it didn’t matter if I washed them or not, the closet just kept giving!  Now, my boys only have 6 pair of pants, so I have to wash them.  I use a capsule wardrobe, so I actually wear every piece in my closet and need to wash them to have options for the next week.

3 – Broken items rarely bother me

Fact: Kids break things.  Little Known Fact: My husband, somehow, breaks even more things.This used to bother me immensely, but the process of decluttering and reducing my possessions has definitely changed my mindset about material possessions.  Minimalism functions under the theory that possessions are not important, period.  Because of this, I’m not going to get upset at a person who accidentally ruins one.  I actually say, “Well, there’s one more thing I don’t have to own!”  It helps me let go of even one more item – it has been decided for me by being broken.

4 – Less guilt

This is a problem I didn’t even realize I had until I became familiar with the KonMari method of minimalism.  I had no idea how much guilt I was inviting into my daily life by keeping possessions around that I didn’t love.

“I should really be using that, _____ gave it to me.”

“Forgot I had that.  What a waste of money!”

“I need to go find _____ and set it out so _____ thinks I’m using it.”

“I should dust.  Haven’t touched that shelf of things in months.”

“Here’s the box of ugly things I have to keep around.”

“Let’s sort the Christmas ornaments: Ones we like, ones we can get rid of, ones we don’t like but can’t get rid of.”

“I need to find a place to put _____ where nobody will really see it.”

These are true.  Not exaggerated.  I actually had to think these thoughts routinely about possessions in my home.

I heard it so many times, but didn’t truly believe it until I decluttered objectively: The people you’ve loved don’t cease to exist just because you get rid of “things.”  I didn’t need to keep around heirlooms, gifts, greeting cards, what-have-you from deceased or faraway relatives simply to remember them by.  I’m not going to forget them!  I do have some heirlooms and gifts that I really, truly love and use almost everyday.  I enjoy that those particular items happen to have come from people close to me.  Beyond that, I’ve learned to let go.  And now I don’t have to hear those guilty thoughts inside my head anymore. (Katie from The Decluttering Queen wrote a great post about “keepsakes!“)

The same goes for money spent  You already “wasted” the money.  Having the items staring at you all the time isn’t going to help the situation – it’s just going to make you feel bad daily, instead of once by decluttering the item.

5 – Ease of cleaning, dressing, packing, etc.

Less clutter on surfaces = easier to wipe or dust.
Fewer toys = even if the kids empty out the whole playroom, it’s not that much to pick up.
Capsule wardrobe = just count outfits to pack.  Everything goes together, everything fits, everything feels good to wear.

And this is why I continually look to minimize our home even more.  It has brought such a relaxed, peaceful mindset about possessions and really helped me curb my attachment to them.  There is so much more mental space and time in a day to work at things that truly matter, because I’m not devoting time to shuffling items around (physically or mentally!) picking out clothes, avoiding housekeeping, lingering over decisions about keeping or storing.

What benefits are you hoping to see from your minimalism journey?

What positive experiences have you already had along the way?

Reflecting: Making Tortillas

The other night for dinner, I decided to make homemade tortillas.
That sounds uninspiring, maybe.
I remember when I first “learned” to make tortillas.  I use some quotes there because my attempts were awful.  But I “learned” to make them during our first year of marriage.
(A little background: We got married at 21 and were both full-time in private college for an additional three semesters.  Picture a historic, falling-apart apartment above a crafts&gifts store, with no internet and a leaky kitchen ceiling.  And heat controlled by the city, in Minnesota.)
Back then, I made homemade tortillas because we were, frankly, broke.
I had no aspirations of being a homemaker.  I didn’t even think I wanted children, and I certainly had no interest in giving up my (future) career.
But honestly, most of our groceries came from a food bank run by volunteer ladies in our college’s basement.  God bless those ladies, and the people who sent donated food.  We ate well, considering: cereal for breakfast, ramen noodles and bagged pasta sides and farm fresh eggs.
But I was determined that we would have tacos.
Tacos were a very important food to my (new) husband.  His family had big taco feasts when he was growing up – lots of chopping and grating and heating up in preparation for a big spread around a huge oval table with lots of siblings, nephews, significant others.  I had experienced these family taco dinners firsthand, and I knew how much he loved the whole atmosphere.
If we were to have tacos, those tortillas had to be free.  And free meant making them myself, with flour and oil from the food bank.
I remember investing $3 in a crappy grocery-store rolling pin to make my husband a pie on his first married birthday.
I remember taking our iPod touch down to the local coffee shop to get some WiFi, to look for a recipe for tortillas.  Then writing it down to bring home, because the iPod wouldn’t save webpages.
I remember them tasting like oily flour, and being strangely transparent, and way too thick to actually roll into a taco.
I remember my sense of accomplishment at having made a family taco feast out of nothing but sweat and stubbornness.
Then my thoughts turned to more recent years, where our financial state has been more secure.
Years where I never gave a second thought to store-bought tortillas, where I had the luxury of being picky about the percentage of my ground beef, where my complaints about taco feasts mounted because “I didn’t feel like washing up all those dishes” or “it was too much chopping to bother with.”
And here I was, in my beautiful new kitchen, stepping around my toddlers, scattering flour everywhere, making tortillas.  Almost a decade after that first time.  A completely different woman, a completely different wife, living in a way I would have never imagined back in that leaky kitchen as a college student.
Making tortillas because I thought it would be a fun culinary adventure.  Because I could.
 
And they turned out beautifully.
What I mean to say, friends, is these tortillas remind me of how blessed I have been in my adult life.
And of a time when I put significant effort into homemaking without even realizing it.
And that now that I have the luxury of time and money, how much more should I work toward creating that “taco feast” kind of atmosphere.
Grace.

 

Let Go of Mom Guilt: Capturing Memories

Mom guilt takes up residence in all kinds of sneaky places.  Let’s address one of those today.

I am never here to mom-bash, so I am definitely not linking to this or mentioning usernames.  While meandering on Pinterest, I saw a pin about mom checklists, specifically “Can’t Miss Photos of the Month.”
There were something like 50 photo opportunities listed here!  If this were a list for the whole year, it might be conceivable.  Being a checklist of 50 photos you “can’t miss” of your kids each MONTH means 90% of people pinning that are going to fail, miserably.  And with that idealism + failure equation, mom guilt sets in.

Do you have a handful of pictures of each kid each year?  You’re doing fine.  (Bonus points if YOU are in any of them!)

I had a looming fear when I had a second child that I wouldn’t take “enough” pictures of him.  Whatever “enough” means.  I love taking pictures, and I had taken a plethora of my oldest because he was so stinkin’ adorable all the time.  Probably ridiculous, but one of my biggest concerns about adding a second child was that they wouldn’t feel as special because I wouldn’t focus solely on them – wouldn’t take as many pictures.  That there would be digital and print evidence that I “loved the older one more.”

After child #2 being on the planet for a full year, let me tell you.  There are just as many pictures.  In fact, I upgraded to a smart phone recently so there are actually BETTER pictures this time around.  Gasp.  There are so many sweet moments between the two boys that I take photos on an almost-daily basis.

I have my own checklist – make sure I take a photo the day a child joins our family, and on each birthday.  Sometimes I remember to take one on “firsts.”
But about “firsts.”  I have learned this – it is far more important to be engaged, present, actually watching the firsts, than it is to be taking photos or videos.  In 20 years, it might be fun for your child to page through photos of their firsts.  It might impress or entertain some relatives or a future child-in-law.  But really, those firsts are the most important to you as their parent.  And what you hold most dear will be a strong memory of having actually witnessed this event, not a sterile photo of it taking place.

While we’re on this topic, let me address scrapbooks.  If this is a hobby of yours, wonderful!  Go forth and craft.  If it’s not, let it go!  Remember our moms’ photo books of yesteryear?  There were some pictures with names or dates scrawled on maybe half of them, jammed into photo albums.  Done.  And our lives weren’t any less rich for it.

Maybe a lesser guilt: printing physical photos.  This is one I feel distinctly, as a natural cynic.  I assume that the internet is going to fail me at some point in the future, and my photos backed up in the mysterious “cloud” will disappear.  And then who will get to see all the badly-timed smartphone photos I took?!
I have decided to let go of that mom guilt by specifically printing photos once a year.  Around December, after everybody’s birthdays in November, I go on a spree one night and choose pictures to print.  I get them done “overnight” to our local-ish Walmart and pick them up the next day when I go to pick up my photo Christmas cards.  Sometimes some of them make it in an album.  Good enough.
I’m going to try photobooks this next year – supposedly I can use my Instagram and have them automatically curated and delivered to me.  Sounds wonderful!

Be present with your kids.  Put down the camera/phone.  Watch and encourage and feel.

That sense of family created by memories is what you’re really after.  Photographic evidence that it existed is just extra.

Bringing Vacation Home

Is there such a thing as an adult who does not enjoy vacation?
I went on a little New Years’ getaway with my husband and our best friends, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes vacation so wonderful, and how to incorporate some of that into my daily life.  I’ve come upon a few different concepts.

From our recent vacation – relaxing in the middle of nowhere.

Relaxing, minimalist environment
Think about what made the vacation so relaxing.  Was it that your space was clean?  That you were living with just a suitcase of possessions and no clutter?  Odds are good you were even living in a significantly smaller space than usual, possibly even with extra people, yet the hotel room/cabin/condo was relaxing.
This is great to replicate at home!  Living with fewer possessions naturally helps your space stay cleaner.  I will forever be indebted to the Kon Mari method of decluttering for making my home more peaceful and easier to keep picked up.  Consider a capsule wardrobe to replicate the limited options of a suitcase (and the ease of dressing that comes with it!)

Fresh linens
That may seem super small, but really.  When’s the last time you changed your sheets and washed your throw blankets and bleached your towels? (I keep white towels for this reason.)  Try it, and really pay attention to the sensation of sinking into fresh linens – savor it!  (By extension, all your nicely folded laundry in your suitcase?  Ey?) If you find this as valuable as I do, plan it into your housekeeping!

Pre-planned activities
Now, this is probably personal preference,  but I usually  have some pre-planned activities on vacation.  On this recent vacation, we brought along decks of cards to play our favorite game, one board game the husbands specifically like, and books and facemasks for the wives.  Nothing fancy, nothing that involved leaving the couch.  The aspect of this that makes the day so enjoyable is that there was no sitting around saying, “What should we do?  I dunno.  What do you want to do?  I dunno.”
Consider planning your leisure once you’re back home – would you like to read a book in the evenings? Journal in the mornings?  Have a family movie night?  I have actually taken to pre-planning my leisure activities for my miracle mornings and for my evenings after the kids go to bed, and it’s great.

Personal growth time
Like I said, this recent vacation included intentional book-reading.  For me, leisure reading is a part of self care and personal growth, because I truly love reading (like in the depths of my soul, love, reading.  #nerd)
Odds are good that during a vacation, you take more time for these kinds of activities.  Perhaps hiking is your personal growth.  Maybe meditating.  Some people probably experience personal growth by touring important landmarks or museums.  Whatever it is that feeds your spirit, you’ve probably made up your mind and planned to do it during your official vacation.
You should really do that kind of stuff during your regular days.  Seriously.

Moments of complete stillness
There are moments in vacation where absolutely nothing is going on.  Nothing is calling your attention.  Nothing needs to be cleaned or cooked or put away.  Those moments may be in an art gallery, in your hotel room in the wee hours, sitting on a beach kid-free, or doing a face mask on a couch while your husbands play a board game.
See if you can recreate those moments in your daily home life.  For me, those moments exist at 6:00 am (after my husband has left for work, my kids are still soundly asleep, and I’m alone in my office with a cup of coffee) but you can jam them anywhere.  On a commute using public transport, on a walk, etc.

Pick one thing to try – make your daily life more like a vacation.  Maybe commit to it for 2 weeks.  Write it down.  Plan it out. 
Share what you’re going to try or what you already do!

P.S. – we used Air BnB to book our vacation, and it worked like a charm!  I even got email copies of text messages sent by our host.  Recommend!
(Not sponsered.  I wish!)

Souvenirs for Kids

…that aren’t garbage.  Or toys.
When I was a kid, my dad traveled a few times a year for work.  He always brought back souvenirs for my sister and me, which was ridiculously exciting to my little hoarder self.  Postcards, t-shirts, stuffed animals, plastic travel mugs, tiny statue replicas… You name it, I had it.
I love what my dad was trying to do – generate a fun surprise for when he got home.  And it was wonderful!  
But the stuff.  
Oh my.
Going on a trip, and wanting to buy your children/grandchildren/nieces and nephews/nanny charges something? Great! Here’s some suggestions on how to do that without clogging up their room with stuff.
Washcloths or towels.  Especially those kind that come all compressed into a little brick and then revive when you wet them.  It’s super fun to make them grow, but then you have a very useful item left over.  Those washcloths are actually really soft and big!  Bonus: easy to fit in your suitcase!
These adorable washcloths are from Grandma and Grandpa’s trip to Hawaii.  I don’t know what “A Coconut Named Bob” is about, but it’s SO CUTE an SOFT.  Big L enjoyed wetting them and watching them “grow.”
A pen/pencil or eraser (for school aged children.). They can can use it at school and tell their friends about their cool relative who went cool places.  And it is consumable.  Rulers and folders are also good possibilities!
Candy/regional snacks.  Does your location have a particular packable food item that kids would like?  Saltwater taffy from the coast? Fudge from Michigan?  Maple sugar candies from Vermont or Canada?
1 T-shirt, 1 size too big.
Because they are already wearing their current size, so obviously mom and dad have dealt with their current wardrobe and they have enough clothes.  The shirt will get more wear if it is an intentional part of their next wardrobe.
A book.  Now, I am a softy for books – it is the one area of my home I have yet to purge.  That being said, a book about the cool place you went (at an appropriate reading level, of course) might be a perfect souvenir.
A useful item they can grow into.  For example, if your special child is almost ready for a water bottle, or a plate, or a baseball cap, or their own cocoa mug.  That way is not an extra of that item, but  it is the one the child uses daily because his/her parents know they already have one.
Any other great ideas for souvenirs for minimalist kids?  Leave them in a comment!  Happy travels.