Even though I'm taking a year off to hang with Baby C while she's still a baby, I couldn't help but sneak an AC/DC backpack into the shopping cart this week for myself. (What? Don't judge. It was very cool!) It was a very efficient shopping expedition and that was a result of some planning in our part.
To get ready for R's return to school on a budget, here's what we did:
- went through all the school supplies in the house and ran a web search on what might be needed for grade one. As it turns out, if you are in Edmonton you need a whole lot more then here in Mississauga. We created a short list of what we still needed and what we were going to ask Dumboo (aka my dad) for as he likes to take them shopping. We ended up not needing very much but we did pack three pencil cases: one for each girl (sorry Baby C, maybe next year) plus one for R to take to school. Take away message: Save all those fancy pencils kids get from teachers, classmates, and lootbags. We had over a dozen! Parcel out new supplies mixed with old ones. Don't set up the expectation of brand new stuff every year. R happily used the same backpack for two years; the girls fight over who gets to use my old pencil cases and all of my fancy pens. Plus, I find a little extra purchasing when a box of pencil crayons is 93 cents and a pack of paper 17cents to be more than worth having to keep it in storage for later as compared to paying full price mid-school year.
- tried on all of last years fall/winter clothes. Very little still fits R but she has plenty of tshirts, hoodies, and a couple of pairs of pants plus her shorts that will get her through the early part of the year. September is generally still summer like. We compiled a list of what we needed: a couple of pairs of pants, a few long sleeve shirts, new shoes, and rain-boots. We then hit Joe Fresh and the online sales at Old Navy. The clothes aren't the best quality but they aren't awful either like some less expensive places. While you could argue that paying a little more for better quality might be worthwhile as there are two more girls to grow into them, it doesn't quite work out for us for a few reasons: Despite the fact that R takes good care of her clothes there just isn't much left to them by the end of the school year (regardless of the brand); L is a completely different body type so she will never fit into R's old stuff and so far, Baby C is her own size and shape. Take away message:: Pick one or two stores/brands. I've got three girls who are in car seats or boosters including a baby who despises being in the car and stroller. It is far more economical for us to just pick up what we need at one or two places then spend a day at the shopping centre or driving from place to place, comparing prices and sizes (heaven forbid you need to return something!) . My time - and my sanity - is worth more than saving a couple of dollars. But saving more than that? A necessity with three girls so I never shop Old Navy (or even Gap) unless there is an email coupon code;and I generally shop online so that it's shipped to me free and there are no distractions of other unnecessary items and /or lunch!
- had R write out all of the things she would like to eat for snack that does not come in a box or other packaging. This gave her the chance to make some decisions, we talked about nutrition, she practiced her printing, and it was really helpful. We have a litterless lunch policy at school so I can't send things in wrappers or disposable containers otherwise they come back home generally making a mess of the lunch bag first (open yogurt container - ugh!). While this may sound inconvenient, it's actually a super economical way to go. We don't bother with any single sized snacks like mini yogurts, string cheese (is this actually cheese?), or granola bars which either seem to have nuts - a big no-no; marshmallows (not even trying to be healthy); or are so healthy they are both expensive and tasteless. Take away message: even if you don't have to go litter-less. Try it! Portion out yogurt in small containers; cut up cheese yourself; and dole out kid sized handfuls of crackers or other crunchy things in containers as well. You can be as healthy or not as you choose and still save money by not paying for all that packaging.
- sorted the winter accessory bag. Yes, it's really hard to look at, never mind, touch, wool, flannel, and fleece when the humidex has spike at 38 degrees but if I don't sort through hats, scarves, and mitts now, when it does get cold there is a scramble to see what fits who and who needs what. Take away message: deal with wardrobe issues for the entire school year in August.
- decide where to spend the big money. I know mamas that drop some serious coin on expensive backpacks, that are looking good and going into the third year of use. I know mamas that invest in really expensive footwear that only lasts a season or two, but their reasoning is "It's my kids only pair of feet! And others who are all about clothes. Backpacks, well, I still haven't learned that lesson to invest in a good one. Last year I fell for a backpack from a reputable clothing store. Apparently, their backpacks are crap! This year we went super cheap, and may live to regret that, but honestly, the budget is creaking from being stretched. We buy our girls good shoes, fun shoes even, but at Dixie Outlet or Winners. We spent a pretty penny on their winter jackets/ski parkas last year. But not only were they on sale, not trendy, had sleeves that could extended and waists that could drop - they were warm! My kid has to be outside for 45 minutes at lunch time, I don't want her to get wet or freeze her butt off. Summer shorts - cheaper the better. Winter jacket - bring on the Christmas present money! Take away message: Spend the big money on items you know your kid won't outgrow quickly, can't lose easily, and what they really need for comfort. Take a risk on cheaper items when and where you need to. There's no point paying more interest on your credit card than buying another of something if it tears or breaks, would cost.
- lunches - R and I talked about what she wants for lunch. And aside from making it clear that I'm not letting her get pizza every week for pizza day, we're good. But I'm lucky, she likes a variety of food and while sometimes I feel pangs of guilt for breaking otu the dim sum, pasta, and frozen perogies on a weekly basis, I figure, it's lunch and the rest of the time she's eating homemade food. But there is not way in hell I'm making her a quinoa-sprout-tempeh puppet to play with and then eat because every other article out there says kids will love it. No she will not and no I do not have the time to build things out of your food. It's food - eat it. Take away message: I am the wrong mama to give you advice on what to feed your kid and the most budget friendly thing I can suggest is make sure it is both something your kid will eat and relatively healthy. Much like the snacks, if you steer clear of the pre-packaged stuff, you are doing your budget - and your child - a world of good. But there is nothing wrong with a cold cut and cheese sandwich - just go for real cheese and not the plasticky kind okay?